I'm pretty sure I've figured it out, the vital question that I've been considering on and off for the past year or so, the question of how to have a peaceful death, of how to ward off feelings of terror and despair. To avoid being cryptic, I'll clarify my thought process, which tends to be scattered and anomalous.
I've been living fairly recklessly for the past several years. I see no need to go into specifics- my youthful idiocy has nothing to do with the topic at hand- but many of you know what I mean (or have a silly, unrealistic perspective on what I mean) and I think that's sufficient. Anyway, as justification for my actions I often tell people that I'm not afraid to die, that I love my lifestyle so much that if it kills me, I'll be cool with that. Now, that's not bullshit. I'm really not afraid of dying. It has to happen at some point so why worry too much about it? However, my skepticism causes me to wonder if I'll always feel that way, that if I die young because of some stupid shit I'll be afraid and loath myself.
I often imagine myself getting diagnosed with lung cancer (a very real scenario for me). How would I feel about that? In my head, in this detached state, I feel that that would be a good motivator. I feel that it would spur me on to do everything I've ever wanted to do, without apprehension or fear. But what if I was really in that position? There's a big difference between viewing scenarios from the outside and actually experiencing them. Would I be afraid? Would I damn my stupidity?
I know I would recall memories of my younger self, sitting with my best friends, smoking and laughing, justifying our tobacco abuse with bullshit like "I've known plenty of old people who smoked their whole lives and died at 85" or "If we do get cancer, it'll be so far in the future that they'll have prosthetic lungs or a cancer cure that'll save us". Would I look at those memories with contempt? Would I wish to change anything?
This truly is a large concern of mine. Peace is the most elusive mental state, and I believe that it's the most important. Imagine the terror of dying with self-hatred. Imagine dying whilst denying everything that you once believed. That's the most agonizing thing I can think of. Losing ones life is one thing, but losing ones soul, their compelling life force, that's another thing entirely.
My contemplation of this has largely been quite bad, really. Rather than evaluating and confronting the problem, I shrugged it off for a long time, thinking my concerns to be paranoia, mere representations of improbable scenarios. However, a shrug never accomplishes anything good. It promotes blissful ignorance which leads to painful collapse when it is inevitably eradicated by painful realizations. I have escaped this, I think. I think I have found a suitable solution to my problem.
I was just remembering. You should try it, it's great. I was wandering around with my friend talking about the past. As I spoke, I recalled things in heightened vividity. I could recall tastes, smells, textures... everything. It was beautiful shock. I looked at where I was years ago, my outlooks, my opinions, my feelings, my surroundings. I could see it all, and it shocked me. I think I've progressed, grown into something stronger. I'm smarter, I think more critically, I'm less effected by the painful realities of life. However, I can see where I've digressed as well. I'm less romantic, more cynical, far more arrogant. A survey of my differences over time can't lead me to any sort of consensus on whether or not I've become a better person. I don't know if I've risen from any ashes. I don't even know if I've ever been in ashes. What I do know is that I've changed. I've experienced things. I've been human. As I contemplate this simple fact, I'm filled with peace.
If I lay on my death bed, with terminal lung cancer, rather than being disgusted with my idealistic, reckless, younger self, I want to be nostalgic. I want to remember how good all that decadence felt, how well it fit my disposition. I want to feel lucky that I got to be a living, breathing, aching, confused, beautiful human being for however long I get. And I think I can do that with the help of simple remembrances of the journey I'll have gotten to take, and the people I'll have met along the way.
Changes are beautiful, and life contains many of them. We must strive to accept all of them. We must realize that every moment is unique. We must look for beauty in everything. We must endeavor to see the world like Ricky Fitts.
None of this is easy, and often, none of it really makes sense. But reason and existentialism seldom coincide and often defying rationality is the best way to find something of substance to live for. I'm slowly finding that. I truly think that the best way to die is to develop an acceptance of all things.
For your contemplation, I'll close with some Nietzsche.