Xeno Hemlock


Life and Death: The Two Elephants in the Room

Let's talk about a couple of elephants in the room: life and death.

One time on my way to work, a scene I witnessed while driving on a main road saddened my day. A pair of dogs disrupted the picture of speeding cars on the outer lane of the side of the road I was at. One of the dogs lay motionless on the ground. The other one was nudging its companion, refusing to leave its side. Since I was on the far inner lane, I couldn't take a longer look at the two poor mutts so I presumed the first dog was a victim of a hit-and-run.

As a dog owner, what I witnessed affected me. I imagined the tragedy happening to my Molly, Jarpad, or Puppy and the heartbreak it would cause me. I didn't think of the owner of the two dogs (if there was one). I was upset he or she was too careless to let the pets go unsupervised on the road. Instead, my heart went for the two dogs, both the dead and the surviving. 

I wondered how the deceased one spent the last few minutes of its life. Playing with its companion on what was another day in a dog's life free of any humanly worry, it was happy, I supposed. No bills and bosses to think about. No gossip on social media to read. No keeping up with the Joneses. No politics bullshit to put up with. Just pure bliss, that I'm-just-a-simple-dog-enjoying-my-time-here-on-Earth kind of bliss. I hoped its death was quick with very little pain, if not a final moment of misery. Of course, I also felt for the surviving dog that was probably in a state of confusion (or sadness, yes I saw a dog shed tears over a dead puppy once) on what happened to its companion.

Xeno Hemlock Life Death Elephants Room.jpg

The scene shoved the idea of life and death in my head as I drove away, the idea lingering there throughout the day's remainder. Why do we live? Why do we die? Why do some of us die young? Why is it painful to lose someone to death? How are the two connected to each other? It wasn't just sympathy being a pet owner myself that stirred the thoughts and questions in my head. My books I Killed My Friends and It Thrilled Me and Walden and Hyde (and Other Short Stories) are filled with death (and life by association). Even the spinoff Death's Last Days With the Dying tackles the same themes. The two elephants, or dogs as we should call them now, have influenced my bibliographical work for the most part. Life and death are barmates of mine. I've learned that they are two important reasons for our existence.

I sound as if I'm stating the obvious but do we really think about life and death as much as we should? Or do we shove them under the rug every day because we don't want to deal with the emotions and thoughts associated with them?

It is funny because both life and death fill our minds even if we claim otherwise. Life does, of course, in our day to day living. From the moment we wake up, it begins. What do I eat for breakfast? Should I shampoo my hair or condition it? Do I wear this red polo shirt or go for the body-hugging tokusatsu shirt to work instead? Should I answer emails right away when I arrive at the office or save them for the afternoon? Do I watch a movie after work or go to the gym to make up for the sedentary hours I spent  earlier? Do I write a draft or read a book before sleeping? These questions may seem silly to you but they shape how our daily lives go about. That one time we skip the gym and go for the greasy popcorn in the cinema could've been the final straw that destroyed whatever discipline's left in us. Then from that point forward we forgo any fitness activity for the rest of our lives, which may lead to diseases or, worse, an early death. 

Then of course there are the bigger questions of life. Should I buy a house because all of my cousins on Facebook did? Should I buy a car because my high school friends are pimping their new rides on Instagram? Should I change career and pursue the one I've been secretly desiring even if my parents would not approve of it? Do I relinquish control and pattern my life based on society's expectation? Or should I say 'fuck it' and take the road less traveled, architect my life into something I can truly claim as my own design? Not silly questions, yeah, but they also mold our life.

Starting a family is a nice dream but it may prove a challenge if we have other ambitions we want to achieve. Following convention may be a safer choice but will it bring us genuine happiness? Or is genuine happiness the other way around, living a life without adherence to how others think we should live it? These life choices give meaning to our lives before our expiration time arrives.

Now we get this question. If I die tonight, was my life meaningful?

I asked myself that a few years ago when I went to a hospital to retrieve the results of a biopsy test. The doctor ordered one along with some others after I experienced days of a painful stomachache. The C scare served as a wake-up call to me, to evaluate my life then, if I was wasting it or making the most of it. After admitting I was indeed wasting it by not following my own path and not pursuing my dream, I changed gears. Viola, I'm here! I fulfilled my dream of penning a novel and is now on the life path I desire.

Just like life, we may say we don't care nor think about death but that's not true especially as we grow older. We save up for our future retirement in order to enjoy the final days of our lives. We look for the most effective medicine along with the best doctor and hospital to delay death when we get terminally ill. We chase the fountain of youth in the form of supplements, beauty regimes, diets, and fitness gimmicks to delay our arrival at death's doorstep. Yet it is inevitable, we know this at the back of our minds, because sooner or later, announced or unannounced, death will arrive.

We better be ready, not in a morbid sense, because we have no choice but to be. When death's ready to ferry us away from here, we should be able to say to him, "I've lived a meaningful life and wasted no second of it." Not letting go is not an option. It never works. Life and death come as a package. We have the gift of one, we also have the gift of the other. How we live our lives determine how meaningful our deaths will be. Are we going to leave people behind with good memories? Are we going to leave the world a better place? Are we going to impart to it a great legacy?

As Teta Limcangco tweeted to me while we were discussing this topic, "I guess, in a nutshell, it's not the length but the width and depth of one's life that matters." You know what? She's right. Now here's the question. Are you ready?