Inspired by a fad in New Zealand, I have started designing my coffin. I plan to use leftover and foraged wood, bits of bamboo, pieces of birch bark and moss, and to fill any gaps with resin and little hunks of turquoise that will glow in the sunshine. The inside will be lined with fluffy, periwinkle blankets and miniature LED bulbs along the border, just in case I wake up and want to read. (Just kidding.)
Once completed, the coffin will serve as both a storage bench in our living room and a daily reminder that death is coming, perhaps tomorrow, next Wednesday, or in 67 years.
I do not fear death. I often joke that something kind and powerful is protecting me. I’ve been known to forget that I’m driving or worse, stumble into traffic while checking my email and, miraculously, not get hit. (I do not condone this irresponsible behavior, by the way.) While I’m happy to share that I don’t welcome death as eagerly as I used to when I was nearly bed-ridden, I do welcome its presence and wisdom–the earnest, straightforward reminder that life is short and that it is in our best interest to make something magical out of it while we are still here.
As much as I like to do cartwheels at the dog beach, speak in a hillbilly accent while I clean, and break into song in the cheese section of the grocery store, I often sink into a quality of seriousness that obscures the larger picture of joy in my life. It’s as if the world shifts into sepia tones, my thoughts become heavy and doom-filled. The present moment finds a way to feel both frantic and foggy while future thinking turns gloomy, overwhelming, and hopeless. In these muddier moments, I forget to remember that life is short and I am already dying. We all are. I forget to remember that it is up to me to not only find but to focus on what is beautiful, and to make this shift over and over and over again throughout the day.
Just recently, my partner and I were sitting in the golden light of the afternoon, enjoying a late Saturday lunch on the wooden patio of a wild-fermented cidery as we planned out our next move, dreaming of tree-lined streets, biking to work, making soups, and evening strolls with our pup. As ideal as this moment sounds now, my insides were twisting and churning. My gas-filled gut pressed uncomfortably against my waistband, the mystery swelling in my foot ached even while sitting, and I couldn’t stop thinking about how tired and weak I felt, despite having slept in until 9:22am. My thoughts picked up speed in quantity and negativity, labeling these future dreams as impossible given the current limitations I still face.
After a shaded walk by the river, shedding a few tears and releasing some of these dark thoughts in conversation with my partner, the image of my coffin came right to mind. Thank goodness, I thought to myself.
To this day, the reminder of death seems to snap me out of the cloud of seriousness faster than anything else. The sepia tone lifts, the heaviness lessens its grip, and with extreme clarity, I can pick my next thoughts wisely. I can come back to actually living my life and delighting in what is so obvious. I can look at the moment with the eyes of my 84 year old self, smiling with confidence as I remember that what matters is always simple and always right in front of me. In that moment on the patio, I had forgotten to soak up the delight of having unrushed time with my partner, relaxing in the sunshine, surrounded by the green trees of Oregon.
I wonder, what would happen if we were constantly reminded that all of this beauty and suffering is in fact, going to end? How would it change our experience of this very moment? How would it change the way we hugged our partner, spoke to our parents, or the way we washed our coffee mugs before heading to work?
What would building your coffin change for you, right now?