ሲስተሙ (ክፍል ሁለት)
One of my worst fears came to pass this week. After fighting sarcoma for almost two years, my uncle passed this Monday morning. He was 36 years old. His death wasn’t supposed to catch any of us by surprise and yet it did. It shook us to our core — partly because he died young and partly because envisioning the future without him in my life and our family’s life feels surreal, impossible, and just not right. My sister and I used to call him Brioche and occasionally we would refer to him as Uncle Bri even though we never saw him as our uncle but rather as our brother, our smart and wise friend, and oftentimes the person to whom we turn for laughter and a good time. He had a beautiful sense of humor. I sure would miss going to him for advice and deep conversations but what I would miss the most is laughing with him. He was one of those people who knew how to strike such a fine balance between seriousness and lightheartedness.
I spent the entire week sifting through the texts, videos, pictures, and the many hours of voice mails we exchanged over the years. All the while, I was thinking about one thing in particular — human’s proclivity to treat ourselves as invincible, our relationships as permanent, and our time here on earth as infinite. One aspect of life that I find endlessly puzzling is that while reminders of death exist all around in the form of natural disasters, wars, accidents, crimes, and people just growing older and dying, the reality of our own mortality seems to evade many of us. Certainly, death is an inevitable part of being human and everyone is aware of it. Yet, this knowledge does not seem to inform people’s choices and decisions. We invest a great deal of our time and energy pursuing all the things we believe will make our lives full, joyful, and significant but fail to reroute our focus toward what truly matters. Since we humans aren’t good at predicting what would bring us real fulfillment, we tend to fall prey to what society deems honorable and worthwhile — money and prestige.
The sad reality is that on the one hand most of us including myself often confess that we prize community and genuine connections over material possessions, and personal growth over fame. Yet, our day-to-day lives don’t seem to reflect that. Look no further, our social media pages are dedicated to showcasing our wealth and status only disguised as a “source of inspiration to others.” Even though studies suggest that one’s quality of life is directly correlated with goals oriented toward connection, personal development, and sense of meaning in life, a mere endorsement of such values may not be reasonably sufficient to result in a well-balanced life, rather it is the consistency between “the talk and the walk” that often generates the highest form of well-being. As a dying professor, Morrie Schwartz once stated, “Everyone knows they are going to die but nobody believes it. If we did, we would do things differently.”
I have always been a big proponent of living a mortality-conscious life. This is why I wrote my doctoral dissertation on the topic of death awareness. I am of the view that a strong sense of death awareness plays a significant role in inspiring people to live more fully, presently, and authentically. Death shouldn’t be considered as a source of dread but a vehicle that transports the individual from a superficial way of living to one that is authentic. According to existential philosophers, a healthy dose of death awareness is believed to awaken people to living a life in harmony with their values and enable them to make the most of their finite time.
Mortality is one of the irremediable burdens of being. No individual ever had a say on the matter of being born and dying. The arbitrariness of this human existence is encapsulated by the German philosopher Heidegger as “thrown-ness.” Thrown into a world that is fraught with pain, suffering and ultimately death, at a specific place and time to a specific set of parents without the individual ever being consulted about any of the conditions whatsoever seems unjustifiable. It seems the manner in which people have been trying to justify the cruelty of this thrown-ness is by aiming toward what is good and worthy.
It was almost as if he knew the ephemerality of his time on earth, but my uncle was committed to spending quality time with his family especially in the last five or six years of his life. If the family went out for a coffee or dinner, it was almost always his idea. Long before the darkness dawned and before no one could possibly predict the agony that lies ahead, Brioche posted a 30-second video of Buhe celebration with the family. That was in 2020 and his cancer diagnosis interrupted his life shortly after that. Little did we know that that was going to be his last post. This week my sister and I went back and looked at that video along with the family pictures he shared with us on Viber. This is what saddens me the most though – the preciousness of ordinary and even “boring” moments like that are almost always deeply cherished from hindsight.
Written by: Feven Seifu
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