A few years ago, a high-concept app called WeCroak gained a bit of buzz in circles both mainstream and religious. Installed on your phone, several times a day the app will send you a reminder that says, “Don’t forget, you’re going to die.”
What peace, many wrote, to be reminded that our existence is but a blink of time! The argument you are currently having with your spouse, the project due this morning that completely slipped your Wordle-playing mind, the cruel things you snarled at the customer service rep over the phone last night: Who cares? None of it matters! Soon, you’ll be dead.
In his book Low Anthropology, Christian author David Zahl writes that, in addition to reducing anxiety by focusing the user on something beyond the present, the app also reminds us that all people experience death, of themselves and others, which makes grief a bridge across difference. “[L]oss is a touchpoint with our fellow citizens,” he writes, “however differently we may interpret that loss. More than that … it motivates sympathetic outreach to others who are suffering, regardless of what else we may or may not have in common.”
Which may be true, although you might think otherwise if you’ve ever seen how toxic Twitter can get following the tragic death of anyone associated with either political party.
I thought of this app today because I’ve been reading Kierkegaard (of course), and though I’m not in a position to presume to fully understand his work, it occurred to me that the reminder I need several times a day is not that I’m going to die, but that I’m alive.
In Fear and Trembling, Kierkegaard wrote, “If a human being did not have an eternal consciousness … if a vast, never appeased emptiness hid beneath everything, what would life be then but despair?”
His point (despite his morose reputation) is that life is not despair, or not despair alone. Because we do, in fact, have eternal consciousness. (Later, in Sickness Unto Death, he wrote, “If there were nothing eternal in a man, he could not despair at all.”)
I know about death. I’ve seen loved ones die, and I was told, a few years ago, that I was going to die myself — and not in the usual, happens-to-all-of-us sort of way.
Tell me I’m mortal and I’m apt to roll my eyes at the obvious. I mean, I get the utility of it: Yes, someday I’ll be dead and none of this will matter, and with any luck it will happen before I have to go to that dentist appointment next Tuesday.
What I need is an app that will remind me several times a day that I’m alive, and eternal, and to ponder that, even if only for a moment.