I came across the following quote today:
“You don’t have to think very hard to realize that our dread of both relationships and loneliness … has to do with angst about death, the recognition that I’m going to die, and die very much alone, and the rest of the world is going to go merrily on without me.”
It’s from David Foster Wallace on writing, death, and redemption, and I sat there staring at it in disbelief. I vehemently disagree with this quote, as it is written. And now I will write an essay in reaction to how it is written without actually looking at the rest of the article. Without giving it context.
Dread of relationships and loneliness have very little to do with the understanding that we’re going to die. What we’re afraid of, though, is never fully living. We’re afraid of being the walking dead — dead before we die. Rotting from the inside out because we’re not getting the connection from others.
THAT IS WHAT WE’RE AFRAID OF.
I wrote an entire research article on this very sort of thing: Love and Loneliness: The Importance of Connection Loneliness will kill you and research supports that statement.
The rest of the world goes merrily along without you anyway. You understand this anytime something horrific or tragic or traumatizing happens in your life. Hell, many people who really get into fiction get this anytime they finish a book they were totally into and feel gutted that the amazing book has ended while the rest of the world carries on like nothing happened. I felt this world-goes-on-without-you when I was 19 and my dad died. So no, I don’t believe that has anything to do with it either.
And really, as I write, the more I realize that the DREAD of relationships and the DREAD of loneliness has nothing to do with death at all. It has to do with the fear that no one will accept us for who we really are. And that kills us inside, potentially creating a walking-dead existence, bereft of TRUE connection to anyone, if we’re not careful.
Life REQUIRES us to be vulnerable and courageous. Life requires us to love ourselves. And if we love ourselves, then we will dread neither loneliness nor relationships. If we have a good relationship with ourselves, then we will have good relationships with others. THERE IS NOTHING TO DREAD.
What this quote does is conflate fear of death with fear of not being loved for who we are. It shifts the focus, whether consciously or not, because it HURTS to look at that fear of rejection. And that fear is plain as fucking day if you look at what is written. It’s seated squarely in those words, “…and the rest of the world is going to go merrily on without me.” You fear not only being forgotten but not ever having made an impact at all. You fear invisibility, David. This is your ego talking.
And this is what life is. This grappling with the ego that we all do and that we all fear doing consciously. It’s not death we fear. It’s life. It’s being vulnerable. It’s fear of rejection of our true self. And if we’re not seated in our true selves, if we’re in that unfolding place of self-discovery, or if we’re in that walled-up place of fear, then we’re not truly LIVING. We’re not in the moment. We’re not ALIVE. Not fully. Those of us who are unfolding get moments of that much-sought-after aliveness that propel us forward, but we’re still not fully alive. Those who are walled up for fear of getting hurt again are not only not fully alive, they’re mostly dead inside and they don’t even want to name that emptiness that overwhelms them.
This is the death you were actually talking about, David. Death while the body you inhabit still walks around pretending to be alive.
The tragedy here, though, is twofold. First, David Foster Wallace committed suicide in 2008 by hanging himself.
The other tragedy is in the symbolism of his method of suicide and in the symbolism of the zombie culture, which he so very indirectly and unconsciously alludes to in this quote of his. How does one kill a zombie? Destroy its brain. Separate it from the rest of its body.
The head is the centre of the intellect. It’s also where the ego is more or less seated. The ego is the sense of self. It needs attention and it will do anything it can to get that attention. Doesn’t matter if it’s positive attention or negative attention. ANY ATTENTION WILL DO.
We humans thrive on truly positive attention and when we don’t get it, we risk losing our sense of self to the grey-scale ravages of fear:
- I’m not good enough
- I need to be perfect
- I am inherently flawed
- Nobody loves me
- I cannot show the real me to the world
- I will be rejected
- I AM rejected
- I’m unworthy
When we learn to accept ourselves for who we truly are and love who that person is, flaws and all, we come to life. We come into focus, into full-colour living. We move out of the ego and into heart-centred living.
So frequently, I’ve seen gifs depicting a brain and a heart side by side with the brain thumbing over to the heart, saying to the viewer, “I’m with stupid.” This is supposed to illustrate our collective disgust with love and romantic relationships, because we think that it’s the heart that makes all those stupid decisions, since love is supposed to be from the heart. Well, love IS from the heart, but those stupid decisions about romance are all ego-based. They’re from our head. They’re manifestations of our wounded ego. Our whole global “civilized” notion of what love is is incredibly flawed because, for the most part, all those things we’re told are love are actually fear-based, ego-hungry notions of “love”.
Our dread of relationships has to do with our fear of being vulnerable to someone else rejecting our true selves. Our dread of loneliness has to do with our fear of who we truly are. When we are lonely, we overlook the value of our own company. When we are lonely, it is a manifestation of us rejecting ourselves. Those two fears are terrible gut-punch double-whammys. They’re really hard to look at. So we off-load what’s actually happening and pin it on fear of death. What we’re telling ourselves on the unconscious level is that we don’t want to die, but we’re afraid to truly live.
This is how we become zombies, walking around unconsciously serving our petulant master, the wounded, hungry ego, while completely ignoring the life-sustaining, self-accepting, self-nurturing heart.
We need to strike a balance between the two. We cannot and should not give up our intellect, our brains, our ego. But continuing to ignore the wisdom and potency within the heart and heart-based, whole-hearted living is turning us into the walking dead.
And if you’ll take a look at that quote within the context of the full article, you’ll discover that we end up taking about the same exact things, variations on a theme, if you will, of ego, fear, and vulnerability. Wallace focuses on writing and literature while I focus on the zombie culture of everyday existence and the pull between head and heart, wounded hungry ego and self-acceptance, fear and love.
May you finally be free from your fear, David Foster Wallace. Wherever you are, I hope you have found peace within yourself and acceptance of who you truly are. You have not been forgotten. The world continues with you. Thank you. Thank you for sharing yourself with this world. You are appreciated and I am grateful for your life.