This seems to be the year of me dealing with a lot of those things that just build up over the course of life, that residue of humanity. Those deeper wounds that came from events earlier in our lives. In addition to those things, as an expat, I am often confronted by my own mortality.
My first brush with the idea that I need to prepare for a contingency in which I die overseas came when my friend’s dad was murdered in a foreign country, two years ago. At that point, I kind started to set up something, register my address with the State Department so they knew where I was if my Mom ever had to call them and to set up emergency contacts both here in Beijing and back home in Omaha. But I still hadn’t really thought about the idea of me dying.
Then right around January 1st, 2018, I started reading two books by Caitlin Doughty (death positivity advocate, mortician, founder of The Order of the Good Death, YouTube personality, author, and speaker), Smoke Gets in Your eyes: and other lessons from the crematory and From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death. Both of these books forced me to finally start to look at my mortality and the mortality of those I love. This is not an easy thing for Westerners to face, our entire system is built keeping death out our eye line and perpetuating the myth that we will live forever.
Now you would think that all this reading and thinking would have produced some action, but it really didn’t. I had become more death positive and was even having conversations about those topics, but I wasn’t writing anything down or making any concrete plans about what should happen in the event of my demise.
Finally, last Saturday, I bit the bullet and wrote my death plan, basically just something that says what I want to be done with my body when the end comes, so my family. I wrote it, but I didn’t send it. It seemed too morbid and I didn’t want to alarm anyone or make them worry that I might be suicidal (it’s funny that when someone looks to their mortality, in the West, we make them feel like they must be crazy).
And then on February 12th at 6:10pm, Beijing experienced an earthquake. It was only 4.4 on the Richter scale, but it scared the hell out of me. There were a few reasons this rattled me: 1) being from Nebraska, I had never experienced anything like this before. 2) In addition to all the stuff I worry about, living in China, I now have to worry that the earth itself may be out to get me. 3) Apparently, Beijing has experienced earthquakes before, big ones with lots of death and destruction (note: don’t look up a city’s earthquake history while trying to convince yourself that you didn’t just feel an earthquake and trying to comfort yourself that an earthquake can’t happen in Beijing). 4) Beijing construction is shoddy at best, your apartment is a literal death trap. Being buried under rubble isn’t how I want to go out (I am partial to going out like Oscar Wilde, getting loaded drunk and getting into a fight with my wallpaper (unfortunately, Google says he died of syphilis, also not how I want to go out). Needless to say, I wrote an email to my family that night and attached my death plan. It’s not much but it’s the beginning of being prepared for the inevitable, no matter how far off it may be.
I know this isn’t the usual tone of my writing, but I have been thinking about mortality a lot lately, why we’re alive and what we’re supposed to do with the time have? Also, I was a little rattled by the earthquake even though it was small and did no damage.
At the same time, there were some takeaways from this: 1) always make sure your house is in order (i.e. take of death planning, have savings for unseen events, always have a contingency plan). 2) We live in an increasingly dangerous world and we are increasingly more fearful, and that fear paralyzes us. So come to terms with the fact that no matter how much you fear it, death is coming, so write a plan, and then go out and live. The only things we have to fear is regret and the unlived life.