And she asked Sydney about death.
“Do you fear death?”
When Sydney did not respond, she continued. “Some say if you don’t fear death, you aren’t living well. But I don’t know. I know death is part of life, but still…”
“Hmm,” Sydney considered. “I think there is nothing to fear about death,” Sydney said.
Her brow furrowed. “Of course there is. Everyone fears death.”
“Do they?” They continued along the path, following the twists and turns. Sydney asked, “Do you know what death is?”
The girl started to nod, then stopped and shook her head instead. “I’m not sure.”
Sydney smiled kindly. “It’s ok. Most people never try to put it in words. But you fear it?”
“Of course. Don’t you?”
Sydney said, “No.”
Sydney stopped walking, gesturing for her young friend to sit beside her a stone bench. “No, I do not fear death.”
“But…” she started. “But, Sydney-“
“Don’t get me wrong. I’m not about to jump off a cliff. I fear neither life nor death. I accept them both. They are the same, really. Two cobblestones on the same path.”
She nodded, thinking about what Sydney said. “I think I see what you’re saying.” Sitting, she continued. “But I still don’t want to die. What if we just end? Or go to a terrible place? Or come back as, I don’t know, a dung beetle or something?”
Sydney noted, “Then you are apprehensive about the unknown – not about death.”
“Well, yeah, I guess.” She shifted a small stone at her feet.
Sydney continued, “Why not be excited instead?”
“About death?” She looked up at Sydney, incredulous.
“About anything. About everything. Yes, about death, too. Let’s think about other times you deal with the unknown. When you climb a tree, do you always know which branches are strong enough to hold you? Or what you might find hiding in the branches?”
“No, but I can guess. I’m a pretty good judge of trees,” she said with a smirk.
“I’m sure you are,” Sydney grinned. “But you might fall. You might get bitten by a snake or cut your hand. While you climb, are you thinking about your fear?”
“No, but that’s different!”
“How? You don’t know if you will have fun or not, but you are excited anyway. Right?”
She sighed. “Yeah, but I still say that’s different. I’m not scared of a little scratch.”
“So,” she said, “I’m good at climbing and its pretty unlikely that anything bad will happen.”
“So you would feel better if you knew the odds. I see.”
“Sydney,” she whined. “I like living. I don’t want to stop doing that.”
“That makes sense. But let’s look at it another way. Say you meet someone new. You like life now, but you are excited that maybe this person will be fabulous and you will like what comes next even more.”
“Well, I might nervous. They could be a bully, or just boring.”
Sydney nodded. “I bet you’d be more excited about the possibilities than you would be afraid of them.”
“Yeah.” She considered this. Sydney let her think as they watched the clouds move. A bird flew overhead.
After a time, the girl said, “So, you’re saying it’s all about perspective. I can choose to be excited about something unknown, or scared.”
“Yes,” Sydney said. “You choose how you want to feel by choosing your point of view.”
“And your point of view is that death is full of good possibilities?”
“Exactly so. But also … What is the best way to stop something from being an unknown?”
She shrugged. “I don’t know. What?”
“Knowing it. Finding out. Learning the truth,” Sydney said. “When you have stepped from this cobblestone called ‘life’, to the next one. Then you will find out if that cobblestone is nice or wobbly or whatever it is that you hope or fear it might be. Then, too, you will be able to see the next cobblestone.”
Her eyes got wider. “The next cobblestone?”
“Of course. Did you think there were only two? That wouldn’t be a very interesting path, would it?”
“No. So, we enjoy this part while we are here, but we do not need to fear the next part of the path. When we get there, we will know what it is like. Then, perhaps we will have this same conversation about the next one. Or perhaps not. Maybe, what comes next is knowledge. And we will no longer be blinded by the limits of our current selves.”
“Huh. Now I’m kind of excited about it. But that’s so strange. Aren’t we supposed to fear death?”
“No- not fear. We should attempt to avoid it because there is more than a lifetime’s worth of things to do while we are here. But it is not wrong to let your apprehension go. I think it is better to not let such worry cloud our experiences. Being here, now, is a great adventure.”
“And maybe the next cobblestone will be too?”
Sydney nodded, smiling. “Yes. Maybe it will.”
Sydney and the girl sat quietly for many minutes, watching the sky change shape as the Earth, animals, and air shifted through time.