::Literate Blather::
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
Essay: We All Die

In the dead of night, in those chilling hours when trees scream and stillness suffocates, I awoke roughly at the dream of my own violent death.

It was one of those disconcerting nightmares.

I was in the suburbs – the woods – as terrorists attacked Boston. I ran into an open field to get a better view of the black clouds rising up from the ruined city. An attack helicopter streaked toward me. I realized at the last moment that it wasn’t an ally. I dove behind a tree – a sapling really – and the copter hovered, blades whirling, loud.

And then it fired at me; bullets ripping up the turf.

I woke before the bullets struck me.

I lay in bed, heart thumping, in those long hours before dawn when being awake is a bad thing. It was the witching time when imagination takes shape and every sound and movement becomes your impending death.

It’s primal in the dead of night. Mortality feels real. Death – so often ignored – whispers terrible things.

And you’re afraid.

I can rationalize death. In fact, I probably ponder about death more than most people. It can be an awful thrill to sit and think about death. You can feel the change in your body – the slow panic as you realize that you will die. Death is frightening on such a biological level – living things don’t want to die and will fight – often violently – to remain alive.

It’s one of the reasons I don’t believe in god (in heaven or Valhalla or reincarnation). If people truly – through and through – believed that life was just the first step in a journey that continued with death then why would living things fight so hard to remain alive?

If death was next – if the afterlife existed – then why wouldn’t we joyously celebrate death? Why wouldn’t a person’s funeral be as happy and mirthful as their birthdays? Is it because instinctively we understand that death is the end? Is it because the promise of an afterlife is nothing but a fairy tale to soften the harsh reality that is death?

I believe that when I die my body will rot and the being that I was will cease to exist – forever.

I have friends that find this belief troubling – and sad. I understand why they think so. Most of them are religious (on the surface anyway) and clutch at the biggest hope that a belief in god brings: eternal life. When they die, they think they will go somewhere else and meet up with their dead relatives and friends.

But isn’t that foolish? Isn’t it a lie?

Don’t all of us – every one of us – know deep down that death is an end? It’s why we mourn. It’s why we weep at funerals. It’s the reason why we fear disease and car wrecks on the freeway. It’s why we’re frightened when we wake up in the dead of night after dreaming about dying.

I do take comfort in a couple of things. One, I was dead before -- before I was born. I didn’t exist until my birth and when I die I will go back to that place or that state. I don’t remember it. So how bad can it really be? Two, death is normal. In fact, it is what we were born to do. It’s what makes life so damn precious.

By ignoring death or pretending that it’s a step to another dimension, aren’t we actually belittling life? Reducing it?

We shouldn’t take this short time we have for granted. We should recognize it for the beautiful and special gift that it is. And the first step in doing that is realizing that it is fleeting – and that it will eventually come to an end.

Death is final and can be scary – but only if you let be so.

Read the essay "The Undiscovered Country" here

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Blogger Mo and The Purries said...
Good essay.
I am in the same boat: I think about death a lot, and think I think about it more than the average person.
I'm guessing lots of people ponder it, but few talk about it this openly.
I for one am hoping that death is not the end, and that we truly are granted a next life. Just my hope and belief.

Blogger GFS3 said...
Hi Mo:
You must be a hit at parties!

But seriously discussions about death probably happen too infrequently for something so powerful -- and so universal.

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