– Alex Green Beyond Wealth 6/3/2016
How and when we will pass away is uncertain. That we will is not.
Entropy – the gradual decline into disorder – is the ultimate and most pervasive law of nature. Our flesh-and-blood bodies are no match for it.
Without ever understanding why, we are swept into existence. Before long, we are swept out again.
Viewed from the prospect of eternity, we are no more durable than the mayfly.
When he began teaching at Cornell, Russian novelist Vladimir Nabokov said he knew just two things: one, life is beautiful; and two, life is sad. The reason life is sad, he said, is because it is going to end.
Yet death, our most unwelcome visitor, can also do us a favor. It can remind us what is important.
Greek mythology gives us the story of Tithonus, a Trojan who was granted immortality by the gods but grew to hate his life.
Whatever choice he faced, he could always make it later. Whatever his options, ultimately, he would experience them all. Time became meaningless – oppressive even. He lost his ardor for life. In the end, he petitioned Zeus to release him from eternity. He begged for mortality so that, once again, his choices might matter.
It’s a profound insight.
That’s especially true for those who spend their days moving with the hustling crowd, mindlessly doing more or less what everyone else is doing, acting like they have all the time in the world… until they get a wake-up call and learn that someone close to them has had a bad accident or is suddenly very ill.
Increased awareness of our own mortality needn’t lead to fear and anxiety, however. We can use it as an opportunity to answer the question posed by poet Mary Oliver: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
Some insist that the idea of our own death is inconceivable – that we cannot imagine everything being taken away from us, including our consciousness.
I disagree. We all know what it was like to have never been born (even though we were unaware of our nonexistence at the time). Is it really so hard to imagine a similar state in the future?
Personally, I’ve always considered general anesthesia to be the closest thing to death while we’re still on the right side of the daisies. No hopes. No fears. No thoughts. No dreams. No pain. Just quiet oblivion.
The dead really must rest in peace.
Some of us will depart suddenly, with no opportunity to say goodbye or tidy up affairs. Others will go slowly, with time to thank and appreciate everyone – but perhaps not in the spirit we intended.
To me, the ultimate death would be to live to 100 and then go out like a lightbulb. By then, I would hope to have achieved what I want, enjoyed what I want and made peace with all I haven’t.
Doctors observe that terminal patients who have truly lived their lives – who have strived and loved and taken risks – generally have an easier time with dying.
After all, the true measure of our lives is not what we achieve – and certainly not what we accumulate – but rather who we are, the people we have touched and what may be grieved in our absence.
The novelist E. M. Forster once said that death destroys a man, but the idea of death saves him.
Poet and philosopher Raymond Tallis makes a similar observation in The Black Mirror:
Listen to the clock, amid the sunlit bruit of our busy hours – the phone ringing, the train to catch to the vital meeting, the to-do list growing ever longer – ticking more loudly against the silence of death’s Grand Negative. And then, awakened by death, let us bid farewell (or, alas, au revoir) to our respective corpses; come back from the dead to change the world or our lives, or simply to relish that it is still possible to put the kettle on, look out of the window, and exchange smiles with another human being.