The Other Side of the Hedge: Screw Dying, Live with Your Boots On

The Other Side of the Hedge: Screw Dying, Live with Your Boots On April 23, 2017

To die with your boots on. It means to leave this world on your feet and fighting, even when you’re really flat on your back in a hospital bed.

Now that I’ve faced death and lived to tell the tale (so far, so good!), I can tell you it doesn’t take a hero’s courage. It’s an everyday strength we already possess, because death is always with us.

For all that modern Paganism (sometimes) wants to be death-positive, it’s a tough row to hoe. Philosophically, being cool with our inevitable deaths makes total sense. On the other hand, our every instinct screams “no!” “danger!” “run!”

“Punk Planters” Polly Peterson (2010). Used with permission.
“Punk Planters” Polly Peterson (2010). Used with permission.

Those instincts are there for a reason. Death isn’t some far off destination, a restful dirt-nap at the end of a life well lived. We’re not forever traveling to some distant, inevitable, and abstract demise. Our deaths are always with us.

Living – each breath and each choice and each day – is an act of magic, an act of will. Choosing life means navigating through a minefield of dangers. We do the best we can, and our instincts are part of how we do it.

Fearing death so much that it paralyzes us is overkill. We’ve become over sensitized to danger and death. It’s gotten to the point that a mere whiff of it makes us tremble and flee. We’ve taken things too far, and this is where facing our own eventual demise now can save us later.


Every person, will merge the mind, body, and spirit. The trouble is that it usually happens only in our very last moments.

That life-flashing-before-your-eyes experience writers keep on talking about isn’t some literary trope. It’s based on what happens when all our disparate parts connect and merge into a whole. It’s what we experience when we get ready to fight for our lives.

“Tiger Chasing a Deer”  CC License.
“Tiger Chasing a Deer” CC License.

We spend our lives working for the future. Living in society, we really need to. It’s the only game in town, and even modestly succeeding means holding back parts of who we are and horse-trading aspects of the self for things we need.

There will come a time when all that falls away; when everything we’ve been holding back, holding onto, wishing for, and treasuring gets released. All that we hold dear flashes through us. Loves and regrets, truths and lies, they all come boiling forth. Everything. All at once.

We think of this experience as part of death, but it’s really part of life. It’s the sensation we get when we rally all our resources to fight.

The everyday self gets stripped away. Thought, as we know it, disappears. We become who we truly are. We are reduced to our deepest, wordless values, our connections to other people, and the struggle for one more breath.


We hold off on becoming fully who we are until the last possible second. What if we could tap those resources in life? What kind of people would that make us? It’s not an idle question; it’s a choice we can make.

As members of modern society, we have been taught to ignore our spirits. We tune out that part of ourselves so effectively that instinct is reduced to its bare minimum. We become trapped by needing to know how we know what we know. And we act like we have all the time in the world.

"Charon Carries Souls Across the River Styx" by  Alexander Dmitrievich Litovchenko.  From WikiMedia.
“Charon Carries Souls Across the River Styx” by Alexander Dmitrievich Litovchenko. From WikiMedia.

And as much as we ignore them, we also take our own spirits for granted. We might find them strong or weak, but we accept our spirits “as is.” We feel helpless to change and strengthen this untouchable part of the self.

But we can. Our spirits are just another part of us. Sure, sometimes they’re a long-ignored, undisciplined, and very angry part, but we all have to start where we are.

There will come a day when you face death. It doesn’t matter if it’s a disease, a disaster, or a human predator. The question is, what kind of fight will you make of it? When you rally your spirit with your life in the balance, do you want to take up arms with an old friend and compatriot, or fight alongside some pissed-off, untrained part of yourself?

Self-cultivation isn’t something we do because it impresses the neighbors. Building character isn’t an empty practice. Discipline isn’t a wardrobe we wear because it looks cool. As the saying goes, we’ll fight the way we train.

Official Birthday Music Video by The Crüxshadows

Browse Our Archives

Close Ad