I find myself contemplating death a great deal of late.
Not other people's. Mine. And the strange thing is, I've discovered I'm less stressed than ever.
No, I cannot report that an impending fatal illness - that I know of - is about to wipe me off the face of the earth. I'm hale and hearty, and my cheeks have good colour. But, hey, we all know that particular state of affairs can turn on a dime.
It's more when I stop the internal chatter and clear my head for a moment, my mind goes there of its own volition. I considered it weird at first. Like, was I inviting the grim reaper in, or having a vision of the very near future? Now, I look forward to these moments every day.
Why? Because thinking about my death - or, at least, just not being here as opposed to the dying part - I find my troubles tend to fade into the night. Everything finds its rightful place, and the laughter comes back.
Since youth, I've been aware that death is sitting on my shoulder every minute of every day. It's part of possessing a rural aesthetic; animals die and you're up close and personal with that, and likely more than is needed. But it does give you an innate appreciation of the cycle of life, and how it all works. So, when I discovered a new phone app that sends you five simple daily notifications reminding you that you're going to die, I thought, "that's a bloody good idea" and proceeded to sign up. It's based on the custom in Bhutan that musing on one's death five times daily brings happiness.
WeCroak sends these death quotes at random intervals throughout the day. There I am, swearing to the uncaring gods about not being able to get a park right outside my local cafe, and "ding" - here's one now! It goes without saying that I don't read it until I am parked, at which point it says, "Don't forget, you're going to die." My coffee never tasted better.
Later, I'm down among the heaving masses at the supermarket, reading food labels for sneaky additives when "ding" and in comes "Death is the sound of distant thunder at a picnic." One of my personal faves.
Now, I realise this app is not for everybody. Being reminded of your mortality when you least expect it, is not everyone's choice of coffin lid. The New York-based app makers discovered that too. At the end of last year, the downloads were at a small total of 84. By January, and after some national media coverage, it had risen to a modest 9000.
The other defining feature of WeCroak is that the designers were clear that the app had no advertising, no addictive qualities, and no ability to do anything other than receive notifications. They wanted people to reconnect with themselves, not fall deeper into the cyber abyss. Users spend an average of 36 seconds a day on WeCroak, so it's clearly working out for them.
The quotes come from a variety of ever-growing sources, including W.H. Auden, Emily Dickinson, Margaret Atwood, Marlene Dietrich, Pablo Neruda, Henry David Thoreau, Charles Bukowski, and Lao Tzu.
Most of WeCroak's users are under 35 years old - which fits with the hubris of youth. Always easier to coolly consider your own death when it feels like a million abstract years away. The real test is thinking on it when it's lurking in those darkened woods just a bit farther down the road.
For me, I hate smartphones anyway. When I get a notification from anybody about anything my reaction is to inwardly wince. WeCroak changes the game somewhat. Instead of seeing who it's from and thinking "what fresh hell is this" I get a death notifications and feel centred somehow. I mean, how could "The grave has no sunny corners" not do that to a person?
While it's fair to say that death is a taboo for some, it's worth thinking about whether that endless family drama you're engaged in, or that interminable work anxiety is actually all that big. You know, in the scheme of things.
Fortunately, I share an irreverent sense of humour with my beloved. It's been a year since her breast cancer treatment started, and as we emerged out of the hospital doors after her first post-cancer MRI last week, she was a bit shaky.
Right then my phone dinged, and reading out loud I said, "The other side of the 'sacred' is the sight of your beloved in the underworld, dripping with maggots."
Honestly, the instantaneous belly laughs were priceless. For everything else, there's MasterCard.