Thursday, August 16, 2012

Mortality

One thing that has always driven me crazy is when people say, "Teenagers think they're immortal." I never thought that--as a teen or even as a child. I knew that people died, and that I could (and someday would) be one of them. I've written two YA novels in which death is a prominent subject because I know that teens do have to deal with it.

For teens who aren't living through war, famine or epidemic, the death of their peers usually comes through accident, suicide, or sometimes a serious illness. It's often unexpected, shocking in its suddenness.

We know that if we live long enough, we'll reach a point where losing our peers isn't as uncommon. Most of us expect those years to come well past middle age. But we don't expect to lose many friends who are in their 30s, 40s, and 50s.

In the past three years, I've lost four friends who were in that age bracket: one to suicide, one to complications from a car accident, one to cancer, and one to cardiac arrest. Only one of those deaths came from totally out of the blue, but all of them seemed untimely, far too early. Each of those people taught me special things, and I carry their voices around with me.

The other day, the writer David Rakoff died at age 47--another in that age bracket. I didn't know him personally at all, but I had read his work and heard him read it, and there's a connection we often feel with people whose words we have read and enjoyed.

People say to live every day as if it's your last, but the truth is, most people really can't do that. If we did, we would not have pension funds and IRAs and nest eggs; we would never watch our diet or bother about our taxes; we would never do anything we didn't want to do. Instead, we strike a balance, putting some of our energy toward the future and spending some of it on the present, indulging ourselves every so often just in case it's later than we realize.

I hope this entry doesn't make me sound as if I have a terminal illness. I'm in good health, as far as I know. But circumstances are making me take stock, and I'm happy to affirm that when I look at how I spend my time, I'm glad I spend so much of it writing. My words may not last for centuries, as Shakespeare's have, but they will probably last for a while longer than I do.

It's not a bad way to spend my time. It is, in fact, a wonderful way to connect with others.

10 comments:

  1. On Sunday a 40-yr-old friend had a seizure. Monday she was diagnosed with a brain tumor. On Tuesday she had surgery. Today is she is doing well. Things change quickly. It is good to take stock.

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    1. The brain can be amazingly resilient. I'm glad she's doing well!

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  2. I was just having this conversation with my husband. I wouldn't say teens think their immortal, but many make impulsive decisions without always thinking about the possible consequences and that comes across as immortal. :)

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    1. Yes. I've noticed this in some adults, too. ;-) I think it usually depends far more on individual character than age.

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  3. I'm so sorry to hear about your friends who had left you. I agree that it's important to take advantage of all the good things life has to offer.

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  4. I love this post, Jennifer. You've hit on some very good points. I've always taken great comfort in the fact that I have some books out there containing my voice, a part of me, and that those words will live awhile beyond my lifetime. Also knowing they've touched other people's lives is a great blessing. I think we all want to be influential, to have made a difference, and I think writing is definitely my chosen way to do that. I also love that you say you carry around the voices of those you've lost. Really beautiful. :)

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