Sometimes when I’m waiting in a lobby or near a sidewalk, I’m drawn for a few moments to imagine that all the people strolling by me are doing so even though I have died and am not actually there. I’m imagining that even without me alive and present, the people around me are doing just what they are doing right now. Some audiences like to watch the zombies on The Walking Dead. My preference is for watching the walking living.
This mode of people-watching seems a bit morbid, but it doesn’t feel that way. It’s reassuring—for reasons I don’t fully understand. It’s a reminder that all these other lives will carry on easily without me, and that’s a cheering thought. It does of course have a sad side—I’ll be missing out on the life that others still enjoy. But for me, the idea of death comes with a twinge of anxiety about obliteration, about a calamitous end-of-everything. Watching others walking seems to relieve that. Maybe it’s because walking is so sustained and purposeful (even for zombies).
Most of the time, when I’m feeling reasonably healthy and upbeat, it is extremely difficult to believe that I will die. I can contemplate the constancy of change and the brevity of life all I want, but a gut-level conviction of my mortality does not come easily. And I’m not sure I really want it to. I think most living things are geared for staying alive, for “not going gently into that good night,” for resisting death. But I can raise my level of acceptance a little as a ghost watcher of the walking living.