Unlike Ian and Guy, I've done a fair amount of thinking on dying before. There were days of being wild, when I held death in my mouth, when I licked the dying. I've been incredibly lucky, to have survived my youth, and not to have lost anybody close. To have not yet lost anybody close, that is. I suck on the dying, and the taste of it steels my nerves for the inevitable.
I think about what people might say at my funeral. There's a certain pleasure that comes with considering that people may be hurt to see you go. All my best friends and lovers, I've thought about them dying, and what I would say, how I would memorialize them. I don't think this is conceited, or morbid. I believe it brings into stark relief just what is exceptional about that person, what separates them, and attracts you. You have to be close to a person before you can begin to imagine their eulogy.
The dead live on in the memories of those they've touched. But we strive for immortality, to live on when memories have faded, when no witnesses remain to tell stories of our exploits. We live for the glory of a fitting epitaph. We live so that graduate students on holiday will take snapshots of our headstones.
When we are young we expect we will live forever. Or rather, when we are young, we expect to die young. The young have no concept of aging, and so live as if death is imminent, as if there will be no interval between their youth and their end. If death doesn't soon come, they are left to age with the unshakable feeling that they didn't live enough. Did we not suck enough out of life to be left with death in our mouth? Is this not the tragic realization of Dmitri Karamazov? His failure was a failure of his youth, and having unexpectedly survived years of tempting death, he would now have to learn how to live.
We live for the tribute. The young die good, and they will be remembered as good. But if we've survived our youth we realize that a proper tribute can only be made on the accumulated wealth of a life's achievements. The young are good, but that is all they are: young and good. That is all they will be remembered for. Those who are lucky enough to make it through their youth, to have gotten old, know deeds mark a man for immortality. The young die full of vigor, possibility, and that is tragic. Dying young may mean you get a punk rock anthem written for you, but it almost guarantees you will soon enough be forgotten.