NOTE: This short article is aimed at those without a clear and coherent faith. If you have such a faith I wish you well, but you will find little to appreciate here.
There are two times during most people’s life when they reflect upon death. The first, paradoxically, is during adolescence, the latter is the onset of old age. For the rest, most people’s attitude is characterized by avoidance and denial. We live in a culture that aids and abets this denial. Death is invariably characterized as a defeat, he lost his’ battle’ with cancer. She finally succumbed to a long illness. Death is always presented in terms of disease and disorder, a sickness to be fought, unless of course, you are very old, in which case it is the presented as a tragedy. Yet death is inevitable it will come to all of us. From the moment, we are born we are destined to die. Yet death, like sex to the Victorians, has become something of a taboo subject.
That this should be so is, of course, no great mystery, the prospect of your own earthly extinction can rarely ever be appealing. This becomes particularly acute in an age when belief in personal immortality has massively declined. Even among religious believers the idea that ‘I’ John Smith will be reincarnated whole and embrace loved one who has preceded him into some sort of paradise, is no longer a mainstream belief. Life after death being conceived in much more vague and amorphous terms. This itself surely accounts for a growing uneasiness, since John Smith is normally greatly attached to being ‘John Smith’ and finds the idea of being other than ‘John Smith,’ as currently incarnated, disquieting.
Yet simply pushing death out of one’s consciousness or simply denying that it is something that will ever happen to oneself thought processes will not do, for it is to deny the frame in which we live our lives and can devalue daily existence. For, as the existentialists have pointed out, we live our lives daily with the ever-present possibility of our extinction. This must surely change the way we engage with the world, enhancing our appreciation of those whom we love and the sheer vibrancy of the world we inhabit.
To live daily at that level of intensity is, of course, impossible, but try it just for a day, or even a few hours. I and you, are going to die, we can either choose to look at this as morbid and terrifying or as an integral part of living, as much a part of the cycle of things as the falling leaves.
In this short article, I merely reflect, but have no answers to the mystery of death, though I think it deserves more attention, and I will return to the topic. I merely posit a few ideas on how we might start to change our thinking about mortality.