All Things Die

I recently came across a Reddit post about certain Star Wars quotes. I particularly resonated with this one:

Children on Tatooine tell each other of the dragons that live inside the suns; smaller cousins of the sun-dragons are supposed to live inside the fusion furnaces that power everything from starships to Podracers.

But Anakin's fear is another kind of dragon. A cold kind. A dead kind.

Not nearly dead enough.

Not long after he became Obi-Wan's Padawan, all those years ago, a minor mission had brought them to a dead system: one so immeasurably old that its star had long ago turned to a frigid dwarf of hypercompacted trace metals, hovering a quantum fraction of a degree above absolute zero. Anakin couldn't even remember what the mission might have been, but he'd never forgotten that dead star.

It had scared him.

"Stars can die—?"

"It is the way of the universe, which is another manner of saying that it is the will of the Force," Obi-Wan had told him. "Everything dies. In time, even stars burn out. This is why Jedi form no attachments: all things pass. To hold on to something— or someone—beyond its time is to set your selfish desires against the Force. That is a path of misery, Anakin; the Jedi do not walk it."

That is the kind of fear that lives inside Anakin Skywalker: the dragon of that dead star. It is an ancient, cold dead voice within his heart that whispers all things die…

At night, the dead-star dragon sometimes sneaks through the cracks and crawls up into his brain and chews at the inside of his skull. The dragon whispers of what Anakin has lost. And what he will lose.

The dragon reminds him, every night, of how he held his dying mother in his arms, of how she had spent her last strength to say I knew you would come for me, Anakin…

The dragon reminds him, every night, that someday he will lose Obi-Wan. He will lose Padme. Or they will lose him.

All things die, Anakin Skywalker. Even stars burn out…

...he's already the best, and he's still getting better. But locked away behind the walls of his heart, the dragon that is his fear coils and squirms and hisses.

Because his real fear, in a universe where even stars can die, is that being the best will never be quite good enough.

I'd say I think about death more frequently than my peers. Not everybody posts "The Five Regrets of the Dying" on their personal blog. I think ruminating about death constantly isn't curse, but rather a blessing. People in Bhutan think about death five times a day, and they're reportedly one of the happier countries in the world. Investing in things that don't change as a life philosophy subtly acknowledges that death lies at the end of all paths: all people, all life, all Creation. It is in some ways a final truth, and to deny the truth is to deny we who live in it.

I recall going to a salsa dancing meetup in D.C. a few years back, when I talked to a man who said he wanted to live forever. When he asked whether I wanted to live forever, he was surprised when I said no. I thought then, and I still think now, people are born into a time. Ultimately that time passes, while we remain inherently stuck in the past, and it's good to move on. My world is still somewhat reminiscent of the 90s: seeing boxy trucks drive around, walking to the airport gate to see off my grandparents, and eating Breyers ice cream with enjoyment, three things that just don't happen anymore.

No, literally, Breyers had to rename their ice cream to "frozen dessert" because it doesn't contain enough cream to be called "ice cream".

I think this is a problem, because a refusal to accept death as natural is what gives rise to some of our deepest anxieties. The anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers walking around right now probably know what the right solution is. They just don't want to believe it. Then on the other end of the spectrum, you have billionaires transfusing blood from teenagers to stay young. It's not an intelligence issue, or even an empathy issue. It's a matter of perspective.

If I had to explain to a five-year old who told me (s)he was afraid to die, I'd reply that life is a lot like a birthday cake. You don't try to save all of it forever, because you can't, it gets hard or moldy and you lose it anyways. Instead, you enjoy one small slice of it at a time. If you're having a birthday party, you can share slices of it with your friends and family. Eating a birthday cake comes naturally. So does death.

It is nice to extend life to avoid getting mauled by a wild bear, or trapping oneself in a steam engine, or catching COVID. But we shouldn't forget that we shouldn't prevent the inevitable. All things die, even stars burn out. The thing that brings me comfort is how things aren't beautiful because they last, they're beautiful because it makes life worth living.