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Edition #4
Fates and Choices
Emma Gabor
Edited by Dorottya Ágoston

To Live or Die, Today: 

A Radical Inquiry into Human Existence

This essay is an attempt at understanding human existence; it contains triggers and delicate subjects. You are therefore cautioned to read at your own responsibility. This article’s purpose is intellectual growth. It by no means wills to upset; rather, to prudently provoke the reader for purposes of self-reflection. Indeed, from time to time, throughout the article, I will attempt to break the fourth wall, turning towards the reader through great, existential questions.

The courage or the fall? Like many members of Generation Z, I too have been battling with mental health issues. From anxiety to suicidal thoughts, I am also lost in this sea of stray  souls, trying to navigate the chaos that is our era. In early childhood, death seemed like a radical concept. It was either that, or life. Suicide was scary, forbidden, final, other. For a long time — that is, for the majority of my life — human existence appeared to be black and white, the eternal debate between living or dying, between courage or — what exactly? weakness? fear? cowardice? — it all seemed set in stone, final.

However, since then, the discussion about the ideas of life and death has become more layered. As you grow, as you mature into a young adult, you realise the many deceitful masks society places on terms, on ideas, on thoughts. Most things you have to figure out for yourself, despite the excessive availability of knowledge. Indeed, it is when I overcame my ardent desire to “give up” and to end my life (something I rarely talk about, as someone who is supposed to be an "epitome of strength”, so bear with me), that I understood just how delicate the string between life and death is. Today, I can safely say that in my mind, both have the same source, the same essence. Life and death are, fundamentally, two sides of the same coin.

What are humans most afraid of? What stands behind every one of our fears? The absolute terror of death. Not only do we not understand where we come from, our origins, but we most certainly do not understand where we go when we die. None of us really know where we go when we go. This lack of certainty, of knowledge, of control, is at the essence of all our moments and everything we choose to do, or not to do. Therefore, I do not believe we are as obliged to separate the two — life and death, that is — as society makes us believe. In fact, I’d much rather coin a term that resembles: “leath” or “dife”, if it didn’t sound too nonsensical. In my perception of this strange, unexplainable world, the battle between life and death is constant. It’s a spectrum. Every second of every day, we choose to live and some to die. It isn’t a periodic question, it isn’t one you play in your head over and over at specific moments in time, like the unconsciousness of our breathing — although oftentimes, these feelings might strengthen with the arising of certain difficulties or philosophical inquiries — but it is a query based on seconds. Mathematically speaking – if I may resort to this scary field for a moment – every millisecond represents a choice, our choice to live,to be human. How easy is it to end a life? When you think about it like that, the crux of your existence becomes much more magical, doesn’t it?

I want the reader to look at this radical inquiry as an experiment. After all, I, like you, will only know the “truth” when our time comes. On this wise, is every death a choice? When someone is sick, when someone is killed in an accident: is that fate, a coincidence, is it a decision? Is it made subconsciously, or by higher powers?

We rarely talk about the raw delicacy of life. We struggle, daily. Most of us look at the glass half empty, but to see what we have been given, what a gift we are sustaining on a constant, mathematically valid, inexplicably complex way, amazement is bound to occur. Indeed, according to the internet, scientists, and the famous Mel Robbins San Fransisco Ted talk, the odds of you being alive are one in 400 trillion. And to double check, Dr. Ali Binazir did the maths, claiming that the probability of you being alive is: "2.5 million people getting together — about the population of San Diego — each to play a game of dice with trillion-sided dice […] and they all come up with the exact same number.” (Binazir, 2011) And so it is this constant battle, moment by moment, that keeps us alive. A battle in which we are always given the choice of defeat, of leave, of ceasefire. Aren’t we then inherently brave? Isn’t courage the key to our existence? Or is it something else? Something which we cannot grasp. Every second of every day, we are choosing to survive. In this way, the essence of our being, the crux of our existence is made of a dual entity, one that is perfectly balanced in light and dark, in hope and in ending.

Where is our freedom? Are we free? Or is liberty just an illusion? Our freedom lies in our power to choose between these two forces, the highest that exist. The existence of death is defined by that of life and vice versa: the ouroboros is a pertinent reflection of this thought, alluding to a constant death and rebirth, of existence. In this way, it would be foolish to assume that we can end our suffering, for death would bring about another life, that of death itself. Are we just stuck, then, in an infinite cycle of life and death? Is this what the illusion of freedom means? And what happens when we die? Do we find life in death?

What, then, is suicide? Is it an escape, an illusion , one that will lead nowhere, only back to the source? What about life? Life leads into itself, the source and eventually, into death, which is also this essence. And what could be  the ultimate expression of these two powers?

The context in which I first thought of this dichotomy was upon hearing the term “petite mort”, the origin of which goes back to the sixteenth century. In simple words, yes, it is an orgasm, or the “loss of your consciousness for a momentary period of time”. I must have been thirteen, fourteen, and it was literature class. We were probably reading French poetry (pray, what else? — pun intended). I thought to myself: why is it a death? A few years down the line, here I am, a young adult; de facto, I’ll leave the reader the liberty to imagine why a twenty-something year old is intellectually invested in this phenomena. An orgasm is indeed a small death, and to casually poke the bear a little (you, dear reader, are the bear), the passion of Christ, as proof of his mortality, alludes to him being able to experience such a small death. Fascinating precedent, is it not?

To further posit a criterion, or a whimsical tale of love, I hope to illustrate the absurd verity of this strange assumption. I also hope that it will amuse you. So let us quote the beloved William Shakespeare; I’d like to point to one element in the famous Romeo and Juliet, that may be of interest to our subject today: Juliet says “O happy dagger! This is thy sheath; there rust, and let me die” (Shakespeare, 2015). While we may appreciate this exclamation as that of a broken heart, let us observe the specific words used. Indeed, Juliet plunges a phallic object into her sheath; the Latin word for sheath is none other than the female genitalia. This plunging ostensibly brings about her death, or in other words, her “petite mort”. There, I rest my case.

Have you ever felt so high after a “petite mort”, that you thought anything was possible? That you just wanted to do things, to create? My premise is that sexuality provides the ultimate creative energy and that therefore, it is the truest expression of the duality discussed in this article: the power of creation, the endowment of life.

And so we arrive at one possible answer out of many to our endless questions: sexuality. Sexuality as is literally and abstractly, conceives the dual ideas of life and death: life is made, for love is made (both metaphorically and literally) and death is also made with the ending, the high of a small death. Creating life (a child) is one thing, but the act of making love, of forming a union with another proliferates the choice of life, culminating in a small death. And yet this small death leads not to an ultimate and final ending, but in fact, to the possibility of more. The cycle may begin again and love can be made, ending in a denouement, pushing forth a new beginning. Is sexuality, then, the ultimate expression of human nature, of humanity? Is the empyrean “sin” what makes humans human? In this way, is religion actually trying to rid us of our humanity? Scandalous thought, is it not? With this in mind, I will poke the bear no further.

I will let the reader fall into a sea of complex, mind bending inquisitions, and I will move on to a conclusion, out of the misty landscape of death, towards clarity, and life.

When I say “life”, I think of sunshine, nature, people laughing, and wine (what else?). After years of battling myself and my incessantly alive and chaotic mind, I have come to the following conclusions: life is a game, if you let it be one. This by no means alludes to not taking responsibility or being careless, but rather, to a certain (healthy) nonchalance that allows you to enjoy it, moment by moment. Life is wholly an experience. I’m not saying you try everything once, but I sort of am (within certain “reasonable” boundaries of course). What do you have to really lose? Pain and discomfort are temporary, and there are things that your insides are screaming for you to go and pursue; a certain career, a love, a place, a feeling. Go chase them, tempus fugit. Life is also infinite, limited by human existence; while our time as humans has an end date, life (and death) do not, whereby a moment can seem like eternity, and life can become magical. You just have to allow it to become timeless.

One thinks about their past, their darker moments with peculiar nostalgia. I recall precise, hopeless times when I wanted to go, and I am struck by the depth of how much pain I could feel without actually deciding to do it. I don’t know what made me stay. Perhaps it was the wild woman inside, as beautifully narrated by Pinkola Estés (in Women who Run with the Wolves), or it was God, giving me hope. Perhaps it was the universe, coaxing me towards the light. But having been there, having stared the imminent choice of death vs. life in the face, I come to the humble conclusion that I want to live. It is painful, often unbearable, occasionally horrifying (I loathe reading the news), but it is somehow, in the midst of it all, worth it. Now, I do not wish to torment the reader with dark thoughts. This was an attempt at understanding and putting on paper an infinitely small probe of the abysmal complexity of human existence. Which is why I’d like to briefly and friskily remind you of Romeo and Juliet; a death can sometimes be a double entendre. It can be something much more palpable, touchable, pleasurable, such as a “petite mort”. I chose it, I would choose it again, and I urge the reader to continue choosing it too.

Go, live, breathe in, and breathe out. Life is a gift, and so are you.


Shakespeare, William, Romeo and Juliet, 2015 (originally published 1597).


Earls, Averill, “La Petite Mort: Investigating the History of Orgasm, aka The Little Death”, Dig Podcast, , 2019.


Dr. Binazir, Ali, “Are You a Miracle? On the Probability of Your Being Born", The Huffpost , 2011.

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