What if I succumb to the virus and the year 2020 marks the end? What if this is it?by Stefan Stern / May 9, 2020 / Leave a comment
We are all going to die. Not today, of course, with any luck, or even in the coming days. But one day. It’s the only thing we know for sure about our lives. They are finite. It will end.
We know this. And yet, somehow, we don’t—or at least we carry on as if we don’t. It’s understandable. If you really lived each day as though it were your last you’d probably run up a scary credit card bill and regularly wake up with an appalling hangover: like death, but warmed up. Instead we plough on, knowing at the back of our minds what lies in store, yet hoping that this moment might be put off indefinitely.
The cognitive dissonance starts very young. “Whatever became of the moment when one first knew about death?” muses Rosencrantz in Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. “There must have been one, a moment, in childhood when it first occurred to you that you don’t go on for ever. It must have been shattering—stamped into one’s memory. And yet I can’t remember it. It never occurred to me at all. What does one make of that? We must be born with an intuition of mortality.”
There’s no need to intuit mortality at the moment. It is all around us in dreadful numbers. Lockdown imposes, in the worst cases, a kind of living death for some—isolated, shut in, with few attractive options available.
Most of the time we try not to think about death—our own or anybody else’s. Why would you? There are nicer things to think about. “Death, like the sun, cannot be stared at,” as La Rochefoucauld said. But this current pause in our lives, this enforced hiatus, makes us consider the end. What if we succumbed to the virus and the year 2020 marked the closing of the brackets opened up by our date of birth? What if this is it?
In his best-selling book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey urged us to (habit number two) “begin with the end in mind,” in other words to adopt a purposeful approach to life. He uses a startling device to encourage us to do so. Imagine you are attending a funeral, he says. You get to the church, admire the flower arrangements, approach the open coffin, look in… and see…