There are a million things to be afraid of. Lately I've been scared a lot, waking up scared, going to sleep scared. In my dreams I'm afraid and when I wake up those fears pale in comparison to the morning's news. I've been talking about fear a lot with other people, more than I used to. Some people who are feeling afraid for the first time, some people who're surprised they can be scared at all anymore.
But I think, in this moment alone, writing and trying to make sense of myself, that I'm more afraid of not being alive than I am of dying.
Does that mean anything?
Death is a fact. It will happen to all of us, and, for the most part, we don't get to decide when or how. And being alive and a person of color in America, being black in America, I become more and more aware that my death may be early, unexpected and unnecessary. But it remains a fact. Whether I die tomorrow or in 60 years, the point is, I know that eventually, I will die. And you will too.
And because it is a fact, because there is seemingly nothing I can do to prevent it, I have grown accustomed to it. I will die, and I don't know when. I can't know when. I could get shot by the police, I could get swept away in a natural disaster, I could develop a fatal illness, I could have one of those cartoon deaths where a piano falls out a brownstone window and onto my skull. But I can't know, and I don't. Being afraid of it would mean being afraid of everything. And while, sometimes-- when lists are being published on every social media platform of all the everyday things a black American might get killed for doing, when we're told to stay home and drown rather seek shelter from a hurricane, when the news is littered with stories of brutal domestic violence and gross sexual assault alongside the names of the men who get away with it and go on to make millions and/or become president-- it appeals to me to never go anywhere or do anything again, being afraid of everything doesn't really suit me.
And that's in large part because of the bigger fear. The fear of not being alive.
This fear is stronger than me. And it's made its way into everything I do. It's become part of who I am. I want so much to be alive, to be really alive, that I don't have time to be afraid of all the ways I might die.
People who know me, even peripherally, know that I am, before most other things, honest. Before I'm kind, or fun, or funny, I am honest. This isn't necessarily always my best attribute, but it is my most consistent. And it's born out of my need to live. I don't have time for bullshit and I don't see the need to make time. If I don't like you, I'll tell you. If you're not funny, I won't laugh. If you've hurt my feelings, you will hear about it. If I love you, you will hear me say so, loudly and often. If I care about you, I will make sure you feel it. I'm not interested in making life easier or pleasant. I'm interested in the truth. In all the horrible messy uncomfortable chaos we try to cover with politeness and platitudes. I want to be alive in it, because that's what being alive is. It's gross and dumb and fucked up, just like we are. That's what makes it spectacular.
Lately, a lot of white people have talked to me about how they're afraid of nuclear war. This fear isn't singular to white people, but white people have felt more of a need to bring it to me than anyone else. That fear of an irrational and possibly otherwise avoidable death is new to them, I can see it in their eyes when they talk about it. They've never had that "don't leave the house you might be killed over someone else's ego" fear before, and it is paralyzing. I sometimes want to tell them, yes, it's scary.... but had they considered that they also they might die from anything at any minute? I mean, we could be in the middle of this conversation about how afraid of nuclear war they are, and they could get hit by a bus. And that would be it. Or they could trip and fall and set off an aneurysm that was just lying dormant in their skull like happens on Grey's Anatomy all the time. Do they know, I want to ask, how common car accidents are? How often people just go ahead and die without any reason at all? And I want to say that what I wish for them, what I want more than anything, is not for them to panic over every possible ending, but to feel that they've really lived before it comes. That whatever mess they made and left behind felt worth it. That they did everything they meant because they meant to, because they felt it was absolutely necessary, because they had no other choice. But most of the time I don't. I just say, "yeah, it's scary," and then, "The world is fucking trash."
So I'll say it now. In case I die tomorrow. In case you do. Live. Be honest. Be bold and stupid and uncertain. Do the things that terrify you. Stop tolerating people who hurt you. Tell the people you love that you love them. Be vulnerable and gooey when it feels impossible. Be strong and courageous when it feels hopeless. Find something you love to do and keep doing it. Find friends who make you laugh, and keep seeing them. Search for people that let you be yourself, who feel like coming home, who make it easier to breathe. Fill your life with them. Look at the sky. Feel the ground under your feet. Promise to make the world better in some small way that only you can, and do it. Promise yourself you won't live with just good enough. Live the life you're so convinced should be saved for later. Because the fact is, we're all going to die. And the truth is, unless we try, we may not all really live before we do.