See A Dead Body (Bucket List #15)

Cambodia/UK • Various Dates • Length of Read: 3 Minutes

“So there’s a great essay written by Sigmund Freud called ‘On Transience’, and in it, he cites a conversation that he had with the poet Rilke as they were walking along this beautiful garden. At one point, Rilke looked like he was about to tear up and Freud said, ‘What’s wrong? It’s a beautiful day. There are beautiful plants around us. This is magnificent.” To which Rilke says, “Well, I can’t get over the fact that one day all of this is going to die. All these trees, all these plants, all this life is going to decay. Everything dissolves into meaninglessness when you think about the fact that impermanence is a really real thing. Perhaps the greatest existential bummer of all is entropy.” I was really struck by this because perhaps that’s why when we’re in love we’re also kind of sad. There’s sadness to the ecstasy. Beautiful things sometimes can make us a little sad. And it’s because what they hint at is the exception, a vision of something more, a vision of a hidden door, a rabbit hole to fall through, but a temporary one. And I think, ultimately, that is kind of the tragedy. That is why love simultaneously fills us with melancholy.” – Jason Silva.

When people look through my bucket list, there are two items which tend to be commented on far more than any others: ‘#52 Fall in Love’ and ‘#15 See a Dead Body’. I think that this is because, as humans, we feel a much greater connection to ideas and events that tug at our heart-strings than we do to adrenaline based activities such as skydiving, relaxing activities such as bathing in the blue lagoon, or adventure activities such as spending the night on a desert island. These other activities are nice added extras, but love and death affect us all. Not in equal measures, but they do affect us all.

My second published book, We Ordered a Panda, which can be purchased through my online bookshop, is my comprehensive answer to the former. My way of feeling better about things is to write them down. Yes, I wish to entertain and inspire, but my writing also doubles as a form of therapy. As an atheist, I am constantly melancholic about love and death. I know that there is no afterlife. I know that I am no phoenix and that when I do eventually die there will be no rebirth from the ashes. By seeing a dead body, I felt that it would provide such a horrific and stark image of the fragility and shortness of life, that I would then be able to further comprehend and understand how I wish to better spend mine.

I have now been unfortunate enough to see multiple dead bodies, and can indeed say that this has been the case. I’m not going to go into the specifics of such incidents. Trust me, as much as you think you want to know, you don’t want to know. And even if you did want to know, I don’t want to share them with you anyway so you won’t know.

What I will say, however, is that crossing this item off my bucket list has strangely led me to be a much happier person. Knowing that I only have a limited time on this Earth, and staring death in the face, has triggered something in me to live much more in the moment; to stop worrying as much; to do even more crazy things, and to eliminate any regret from my actions. Instead of fearing death, I am embracing life.

When I was walking home drunk from the pub one night with my good friend Possum, she got out her phone and started to play Yellow by Coldplay. “This is the song that I want to be played at my funeral,” she said, almost stumbling off the pavement into oncoming traffic, “and everyone in attendance will have to turn up in yellow clothes. I want it to be a celebration of my life and not a mourning.”

How beautiful. How melancholic.