The thought of death has been on my mind quite a lot recently.

In January, I lost my beloved grandma. I was in deep grief. This came as a surprise because she had been preparing a trip with grandpa to come to visit me just a couple of months before her sudden death. I looked forward to her presence, her effervescent joy over my mundane life. How naïve I was to know what’s really ahead was an eternal separation. Even until the last few days, I refused to accept the fact that I might never see her again. I kept thinking of miracles because she had always been the one who made the impossible possible. But still, she left.

Later, on Pi day and Einstein’s birthday, Stephen Hawking started his biggest trip soaring beyond the stars. I clearly remembered the moment when I saw the news, it gave me an instant feeling of nausea. I was eating my breakfast and I felt a chunk of banana gliding down my esophagus, and a black hole started forming in my lungs. The rest of the day was hard to focus. Hawking has been my inspiration since first-grade when I read about him in astonishment. He induced me my earliest interests in cosmology— imagine a six-year-old girl with pigtails, thinking about becoming a scientist one day. Fast forward, I have been so busy doing, that I forgot who I was and the road I came from.

Two weekends ago, I visited my friend in Denver. Being an EDM junkie, she played Avicii the entire trip on our way to Breckenridge, CO. That was the day after his death. As the beats filled up the air and the rhythm flowed through us, we cried. On the last day of my stay, I simply went to a park, sat on the grass and read. When sunset started, more people filled up the park: herds of people walking their dogs, running, walking, playing volleyball… An old guy sat by the walkway, put up a sign saying: “Want to play catch & throw?” A few minutes later, an old lady threw her purse on the ground and started playing with him. I went back to the book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, and the last chapter was: ….And Then You Die. The next thing I realized, was that I had finished the book and it’s sundown.

I laid down, bathing under the afterglow of the sun, smelling the juicy April grass, and getting soaked in the background noise of people laughing and shouting. I was fully present, simply enjoying the moment. I felt so great to be alive. The chapter came in at the perfect moment. It wasn’t until that evening, I finally had the courage to face mortality the way it is, and to think about my own.

How do we know if we’re alive if we don’t even notice our breadths or heartbeats? How do we know what it feels like to be alive if all we’re doing is preoccupying our mind with thoughts instead of interpreting the moment with our five senses?

I realized that before I know how to live my life to the fullest, I have to understand myself and what does it mean to be a human being.

After all, thinking about your own death is not that scary at all. On the contrary, it reminds me how lucky I am and obliterates these “problems” that either my mind has amplified or created for myself.

Nature has taught me that Living=present, and now, I think it is more accurate to have a multiplier (+being-doing). More being and less doing means that you are just happy, instead of feeling happy; that you are living in the moment, instead of thinking about how you will live tomorrow. 

Last month, I read A Brief History of Time again. Part of it was in memory of Hawking, and part of it was in hopes of encountering the old me that time has rubbed away. Again, I’m reminded of the transience of life. Just like what Hawking said, “We are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star.” But, we can love, create, do good, and “understand the Universe…That makes us something very special.” So next time when you are upset or angry at superficial and crappy things in life, “remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet.” Remember you are a state of being, that today and tomorrow are abstract mirages we conceptualize and the only reality is the present.

So now

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

With your one wild and precious life?

(Mary Oliver, The Summer Day)