The Economist writes amazing obituaries. One is about Fred Branfman, exposer of America’s secret war in Laos who died on September 24th, aged 72. It ends with a paragraph called "Singing against death"
"The problem with the human race, he concluded, was that it blocked out pain. Uncomfortable facts, inconvenient truths, other people’s suffering, were all denied as long as possible. And nothing was denied as vigorously as death (...). But he had heard it first, like so much else, in Laos. A 14-year-old boy told him how he had sung in the ricefields, even as the planes passed over. “I felt that although I might have to die, it did not matter; that I just had to be happy in the midst of all the sadness of war, of the airplanes dropping bombs.”
When we read such things we picture the fear of being blowN up in the midst of a war and singing feels erratic. But to many wise people, it seems thinking more about death was liberating. English writers of the Victorian era kept human skulls on their desks to remind them of death. Heidegger advised to spend more time in graveyards. Artist Austin Kleon begins his day by reading the obituaries in the paper. Brain-pickings notes how it might seem like an odd habit, but it's actually a remarkable tool for clarifying one's priorities. Kleon writes:
"Obituaries are like near-death experiences for cowards. Reading them is a way for me to think about death while also keeping it at arm’s length. Obituaries aren’t really about death; they’re about life. . . . Reading about people who are dead now and did things with their lives makes me want to get up and do something decent with mine. Thinking about death every morning makes me want to live."
Honestly, I don't get it. Death is this blurry distant thing I intellectualize too often. Turning it into a thinking tool makes things worse. "Thinking" about death is dumb. Period. Spending time in graveyards is useless if you've never been "there". If you haven't "lived" death often enough. So. I bought a skateboard. And managed to nearly die a couple of times. My skateboard has skulls and a crow on it so I remember why I bought it. It also has a name: "Mission". Because every time I'm on my skateboard, I'm on a mission. To all the (metaphorical) skateboarders among our Impossible family :)
And allow me to dedicate this to my legendary cousin who had a near-death experience the day before his birthday last week. To Namir, the man with a scar and a smile. You're an inspiration bro.