The following blog was shared with The Huffington Post by Frances Chen, wife of the late Shalin Shah. This personal essay was written on October 17, 2011 when Shalin was 19 years old. On May 16, 2015, Shalin died nine months after being diagnosed with cancer. His death inspired the #SunsetsforShalin movement on social media, which aimed to help people appreciate life to the fullest.
The following composition is to help me cope with a few eternal questions of existence, purpose and ultimate fate. This piece organizes my thoughts on many ideas and will someday help me accept the workings of the universe, be it the aging process or even the purpose of death. Hopefully, it can give structure to my life.
A few questions to start off:
What would you do if you knew you only had one day left to live? Similarly, what would you do if you knew that you only had one life to live?
My answer: Exactly what I wanted to do.
Given that you only have one shot at life. Given that your genes, your abilities, your skills, your shortcomings, your strengths, your weaknesses, your looks, your mentality, your dreams are all individual for you and that you will never be able to experience life from any other perspective. Given that every second, precious time and life is slipping away into oblivion. Given that death is the end-all. Given that at the moment of death, your consciousness and sensations cease to exist and that soon after your body, memory and legacy will all subside. Given that nothing other than nothingness awaits you post-mortem. Given all of this, how do you come to terms with life and death and how have you chosen to find meaning in your existence? Why is life worth the struggle? Why is life worth the trouble? Why is happiness, depression, emotions, love, money, or anything else important at all? Why do we worry so much? Why do we judge others if we all share a common beginning and end?
My answer: Given all of this, you must disregard the chances of your existence and the implications of life itself. Death is an obstacle; death is a trap for the weak. You must overlook death and see the reality of the present.
The world is a beautiful place and humanity can cause so much progress. Life is finite and, in the grand scheme of things, absolutely worthless and meaningless. Given this, you have two options: take a negative, worthless view towards life or take a positive, meaningful view. Define your life and put it to good use doing what you want to do. As Steve Jobs says, death gets rid of the old and makes room for the new. Death puts pressure on us humans to achieve greatness, it is a deadline in a way; an incentive for meaning and purpose. To come to terms with your fear of death, pinpoint and identify what you actually, truly fear about the prospect of death. What do you fear of death? Why do you fear it? And then come to accept that what may seem fearful is not really so bad.
Also, why do you value life so much? Why do you insist on living longer and delaying death? What exactly do you value about life? I value the ability to reason, to think, to perceive, to love, to wonder, to be awestruck, to be fully engaged, to reminisce, and to experience the beautiful world around me. When man gets old, his desire to die grows more and more; there is something comforting in the prospects of eternal peace and tranquility at the end of a hectic and stressful life. The best things in life (including death) are free. The stars, the sky, music, dance, love, comfort, sex, sunrises are all free. You must encapsulate and understand the triumph of the human spirit in the face of absurdity.
Lastly, you must learn to be satisfied. One can ask "and then what?" or "what now?" an infinite number of times. It takes great self-mastery to learn to be satisfied once you reach your goals. Do not mistake this as a message to settle for less, but rather a message to be satisfied once you have reached the crest of the mountain (in Sisyphus' case).
Since Shalin's death, his family established a non-profit foundation, The Shalin Happiness Foundation, with various projects aimed to extend his positive legacy to the world. On November 16, six months after Shalin's death, his family published To Be Happy, an inspirational pocketbook filled with colorful and illustrated quotes from Shalin on how to be happy and live a positive, joyous and fulfilled life.