Julian Webb

I remember the moment when I realised that I was going to die. As a life-long atheist, I was aware that my existence was finite but, when I was around the age of ten, I comprehended the prospect of my own annihilation for the first time. The idea of death as a negation, a state of unbeing, became suddenly clear.

At the time, I was momentarily struck by paralysing fear and an urge to shrink away, to deny the reality of my mortality. I have regularly revisited that thought since and, although the fear has lessened with time and maturity, the idea of my death still has the ability to stun me. My fear of death is a fear of incapacity; of absence; of an inability to think, feel, and act as I want. Some of these things may well be visited on me by old age, injury, or dementia. I fear that too.

Yet my awareness of, and engagement with, my mortality has had a profoundly beneficial impact on my life. My fiancé’s parents believe in an afterlife and have asked me, with some curiosity, about my lack of belief in life after death. My slightly glib response was that mortality is a good motivator.

My awareness that I have one life, that every waking moment is precious and gone in an instant, gives me focus. I pour as much time and effort as I can into the things that matter most to me: family, friendships, and relationships; writing, reading, and music; and supporting causes that make a positive difference in the world. I want to make my finite life as meaningful and as packed-full with pleasure and personal achievement as I can, because it’s all I have.