When faced with a task that is either unpleasant, tiresome, strenuous, or mentally taxing in any way, I repeat to myself a mantra of sorts. It’s a phrase that floats in the back of my head that has informed my general outlook, and one that, at first blush, is rather bleak: “If I die, I die.”
The phrase’s originator is my mother— a small, tenacious, and willfully obstinate woman who will likely read this piece and tell me that I got it all wrong. That doesn’t matter. What does is that her catchphrase “If I die, I die” has become a valuable life philosophy that I have embraced with vigor. If I die, I die isn’t about death, really—it’s about seizing LIFE by its metaphorical undercarriage and trudging forward to do the things we must do to press on.
Saying “If I die, I die” in response to someone telling me that I should reconsider the romaine lettuce in my salad due to e. coli is flip, dramatic, but it is also practical. I don’t expect to die from swimming in the ocean after eating a chicken parm and drinking a lot of iced tea, but I do know that death is a possibility in literally everything I do! It’s a more dramatic que sera, sera, an amped-up “Whatever happens, happens”—acknowledging that there are many things beyond our control, and to try and stop them is entirely futile.
She will say this to me and my three sisters for dramatic effect—if someone asks her to be careful when doing something or to listen to us when we beg her to just stay near us on the subway platform during her yearly visit to New York, so that we don’t lose her. “If I die, I die,” she says, waving her hand and walking off. “So what?”
We will all eventually die—not right now, maybe, and probably not tomorrow— but it’s coming. Best to sit with that information and accept it, because the sooner you can do that, life becomes that much more free. It’s not morbid, really, but it is a teensy bit Buddhist—an influence that I suspected after realizing that my grandmother is religious and some of that must’ve rubbed off on my mom, a woman who doesn’t really seem to believe in God, but does believe very much in living life in spite of death’s icy grip.
She confirmed as much when I called her on the phone to ask her about the phrase that’s stuck with me for so long. When asked if there was a strict definition of what it means to her, she said, “Not particularly. Because people say that—If I die, I die.” Never mind that I have never heard this said by anyone else in such an explicit and melodramatic fashion. My mother seems to think that this phrase is a well-established part of life, just as death itself. And that, to me, is kind of sweet.
Try it the next time you’re in a pickle where your brain has found itself jumping from conclusion to conclusion, anticipating the future in a way that is counterproductive and panic-inducing. Will you find a new job or lose your current one? What happens if that thing on your wrist that you think is just a lil’ freckle turns out to be cancer? When’s the Big One gonna hit?? Endlessly speculating the answers to these questions isn’t entirely helpful. The future is unknowable, so babe, stop worrying yourself sick. Instead, square your shoulders and go out into the world, telling yourself with confidence, “If I die, I die.”