Most of us believe that it won’t happen to us, that only other people die.
Most human beings share this peculiar belief. That death is not inevitable or that somehow the end of our lives is impossibly far away.
Delusions of immortality are a dangerous thing, because they encourage us to procrastinate. They lull us into believing that we will always have the time to do the things we really want to do at some point in the future.
Rather than use death as a constraint for designing our lives and creating impetus for taking action, we bury our heads in the sand and deny its existence. We avoid it at all costs, using routine and mindless consumption to shield us from its acknowledgment.
However, every now and then, we are reminded of death in a way that shakes us to our core and forces us to contemplate it. We are compelled to look death in the eye and accept its omnipresence throughout our existence.
Most often, it’s the death of a loved one that does it. However, sometimes, this reminder can come from external events, like the sudden passing of a public figure, which puts our mortality on a pedestal, replaying it over and over on television and in social media.
The recent loss of Kobe Bryant — someone so much larger than life — is one such example. Stark proof that death can come to any of us, at any time, and through any means.
The one thing we can count on in this life is that it will eventually come to an end. We just don’t know when or how it will happen.
So the only rational way to prepare for death is to live life to the fullest. This is the only way to ensure that we feel fulfilled at the end of our story. That we don’t exit with regret and instead can reflect on all the adventures we had, lessons we learned, and experiences we gained.
At its core, death highlights the importance of love. It underscores the fact that love is the only thing that truly matters. That everything else is ephemeral, part of an illusory game designed to pass the time.
It’s no surprise that the top regrets of the dying all revolve around love. The love we show ourselves by living an authentic life and satisfying our heart’s desires. The love we show friends and family, and the special moments we share with them.
Living life to the fullest is therefore the same as expressing our love to the fullest — in all aspects of our life.
Love is also the common ground between us and every other human being. Every one of us is a father, mother, son, daughter, sister, brother, friend, or partner. Every one of us means something to someone, even if we only see it through our own individual lens.
We take this common ground for granted. We allow ourselves to be distracted by material differences, like income, race, or religion. We fall prey to our ego, which tells us that we’re special and that our needs trump everything and everyone else.
This is where the unfolding pandemic that is COVID-19 truly tests us. In addition to reminding us of our mortality, it challenges our powers of compassion for our fellow human beings.
It encourages us to look at other human beings as threats to our livelihood and label them according to our perceived likelihood that they carry the virus. We condemn millions of people based on their ethnicity and the information we’ve gathered from the news or social media.
There have already been cases of xenophobia reported all over the world against people from China, Far East Asia, and Italy. Some of us have already allowed our paranoia to spill over and devolve into suspicion and mistreatment of other human beings.
We may justify it by calling it self-preservation, but the truth is that it dehumanizes us and them, and it does untold psychological damage, in the same way that any type of blanket discrimination does.
Italy was the first European country to ban flights to and from China and it now stands as the country with the highest incidence of Coronavirus in the continent.
Evidently xenophobia doesn’t pay off. Fear-driven decision making begets more fear. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy, the law of attraction in action on a national and potentially global scale.
Now, more than ever, we need to rise above our fears and challenge ourselves to show compassion for one another. We need to remind ourselves that every single one of us is cherished by someone. That no one carries or spreads a virus by choice, especially one that can trigger no symptoms.
We can turn this negative development into a positive one and use it as a reminder of the power of love.
We will overcome this latest challenge, just as we have overcome larger ones in the past — but, to do so, we need to collaborate with one another and embrace our collective humanity.
Our success in controlling this pandemic will come down to how well we work together and support one another. It will come down to how quickly we can exchange ideas and coordinate preventive action against further spread of the Coronavirus. It will depend on wealthier nations helping those that are less equipped by providing them with funds, equipment, and other resources.
In our day-to-day lives, we can protect ourselves and others by washing our hands thoroughly and regularly, and by refraining from touching any part of our face with unclean hands. We can limit our purchases to what we need, so that others can get what they need. We can also self-isolate as much as possible and stay away from elderly relatives and friends.
Above all, we can remind ourselves that each of us is doing the best we can with the resources we have available. That we all fear death, in the same way that we all feel love. That random acts of kindness from strangers can lift our spirits and give us strength. And that we are one another’s most valuable resource.
We cannot control when death will greet us, but we can control what we do until then. We can choose how we live — and that means more.
We can choose to take pride in the love and compassion we showed for one another during this testing time. We can ensure that when it’s our turn to go, our treatment of others will be a source of fulfillment, not regret.
We can draw inspiration from examples, like that of Kobe Bryant, who lived his life to the fullest. A man that made mistakes, but who made up for them with positive action and noble deeds. A man who embodied strength and courage, extracting every ounce of his potential in everything that he did.
Kobe may have made his name playing basketball, but his name will live on for the things he did off the court. The countless times he went out of his way to help others. And the role model he represents for young people all over the world. He will be remembered as someone with a fierce mentality, who never allowed fear to steer him away from doing the right thing.
COVID-19 may be remembered for the death it leaves in its wake and the lives it shatters. It may also be remembered for the disruptive impact it has on our supply chains and economies. But, if we so choose, it could ultimately be remembered as a testament to the love and compassion that we are capable of as a species, and the boundless potential we possess when we work together.
Kobe’s death and the rapid emergence of COVID-19 have ushered in 2020 in darkness. However, we can still draw something positive from both events and find our way back into the light.
The former provides us with a shining example of how to live a full life built on strength and compassion. The latter represents the perfect opportunity to put strength and compassion into practice.
We cannot control what has happened up to this point, but we can control what we do from here.
We can choose today to start expressing more love in all aspects of our lives. We can decide to take action fueled by compassion and play a constructive role in helping one another navigate this turbulent period in our history.
The next time we cross paths with another human being — whether they are Chinese or Italian, Black or White, Muslim or Jewish — rather than typecast or fear them, we can ask ourselves: what would Kobe do?
We can go even further, project ourselves at the end of our lives, and ask: what would we wish we had done?
We will find that love is always the answer.
In life and in death.