When I was in the 8th grade, I began to think about my own mortality, increasingly aware of the short time in which I had to live. This premonition of death has followed me throughout my 17 years. It sits beside me every time I faint, it sleeps in my bed when my head won’t stop pounding or when my muscles tighten, it drives beside me on that dark and windy gravel road, it reminds me of the fragility of my life. This beautiful and wonderful life that I have been blessed with that can so easily be taken from me. Whether this premonition is an ominous warning or merely a symptom of my anxious thoughts, it is a harsh but important reminder to embrace the life I’ve been given while I still have the chance. Although this seems a dark and strange thought, I am not the only person who has felt death weighing upon their life.
Many historians believe that Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States, predicted his own death in the form of a dream only a few nights before his assassination on April 14, 1865. Lincoln’s bodyguard, Ward Hill Lamon, recalled the dream after Lincoln’s death, writing what he remembered Lincoln telling him. In the dream, the White House was filled with mournful cries. When Lincoln found the source of these cries, he also found a corpse wrapped in funeral sheets and surrounded by weeping mourners. Lincoln asked one of his soldiers, “‘Who is dead in the White House?’… ‘The President,’ was his answer; ‘he was killed by an assassin.’” As a religious man, Lincoln strongly believed in the power of dreams as a sign from God. In his favourite poem, Mortality, William Knox writes about the same consistent fate of death that greets every living thing no matter the circumstances of one’s health, company or wealth. He writes about the repetition of life as each dies and is soon forgotten so each flower “withers away…” However foreboding his premonitions may have been, Lincoln was not the only president to sense his own death nearing on the horizon.
Long before John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, the premonition of death weighed on his shoulders. In his favourite poem entitled, I Have a Rendezvous with Death, Alan Seeger wrote, “It may be he shall take my hand. And lead me into his dark land. And close my eyes and quench my breath. It may be I shall pass him still. I have a rendezvous with Death.” For Kennedy, the thought of death was never far from his mind. He had previously seen the death of two of his siblings and of two of his own infant children while also having come very close to death himself on multiple occasions. He often thought of his own assassination, once predicting he wouldn’t live past the age of 45 (he died at 46). On the morning of his fatal tour through Dallas, JFK was reading the newspaper when he turned to his wife, Jackie, and said, “If somebody wants to shoot me from a window with a rifle, nobody can stop it, so why worry about it?” His creeping premonition of death was not mere anxiety for later that day, while riding through Dallas, he was shot and killed with a rifle from the 6th floor window of the Texas School Book Depository by a man named Lee Harvey Oswald. He had known his time was soon, he had embraced life while he could, but he could not avoid his rendezvous with Death.
These same themes of death can be found in the book of Ecclesiastes in the Christian/Judeo bible. Ecclesiastes was written by Solomon, King of Jerusalem, in the approximated time of 450-180 BCE. Solomon writes about the repetition of life when he says, “Generations come and generations go but the earth remains forever. The sun rises and the sun sets and hurries back to where it rises. The wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes, ever returning on its course. All streams flow into the sea yet the sea is never full. To the place the streams come from, there they return again…There is no remembrance of men of old, and even those who are yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow.” This reminder of the cyclical nature of the earth may seem dark and foreboding, but the conclusion that Solomon draws is that we must embrace our lives because we cannot escape our deaths. Although he regards much of life to be a “grievous evil,” he writes that we must enjoy our youth while we are young, living without anxiety as the same fate of death greets us all.
In the January 2018 edition of The Atlantic, Bianca Bosker wrote about an app called WeCroak that reminded her of the importance of life by reminding her of the imminence and inescapable nature of death. Five times a day, the app would send her the same grim notification: “Don’t forget, you’re going to die.” The idea for the app originated from the Buddhist concept of maranasati, the awareness of death. The Buddhist belief is that meditating on death will bring you greater joy in life. For Bosker, the app reminded her to face her fears and enjoy her life because, as she says, “Whats a little public speaking next to the terrible finality of my inevitable demise?”
Although this may seem a dark and morbid subject, it is in fact a light in my life that reminds me to appreciate the beauty of our existence and to face death without fear. This life is extraordinary. Our very existence, incredible. We are so blessed to have even a single breath in our lungs, a single pump of our hearts. It is amazing that we survive so long and that we each have the capacity to love, to laugh, to cry with one another and for one another. There is so much we cannot understand, including that which greets us beyond our time on earth. But the thought of death is not a depressing one; for me, death is a reminder of this incredible, extraordinary life that we have been so blessed to live. I swam in the ocean! I danced with the boy that softens my heart! I kissed her cheek and held his hand! I felt as much as I could, allowing my heart to break and mend and break again. I am grateful even for these tears, even for my aching heart.
In the opening of Pink Floyd’s The Great Gig in the Sky, it says, “I’m not frightened of dying, any time will do, I don’t mind. Why should I be frightened of dying? There’s no reason for it, you’ve gotta go sometime.” Whether I die tomorrow or live beyond 100 years, I will face death with the knowledge that I have lived an extraordinary life. Death is a familiar substance, an old friend and I am not afraid. For I, too, have a rendezvous with Death.
Bosker, Bianca. “The App That Reminds You You’re Going to Die.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 2018.
Brandus, Paul. “Did JFK Predict His Own Death?” The Week , 18 Nov. 2013.
“Lincoln Dreams about a Presidential Assassination.” History.com, A&E Television Networks.
Wright, Richard. The Great Gig in the Sky.
NIV Bible. Hodder & Stoughton Ltd, 2007.