Image courtesy of EMCrit.
Some of you may have seen my recent essay I wrote titled The Mortality of Me. If you haven’t, I would ask that you give it a read. It reflects some of my thoughts on my own mortality which, as I approach the age of AARP (50), is something that one tends to ponder every now and then. But, what has really made me think about it is my On Death and Dying course that I’m taking as part of my Philosophy degree. Later on, I will also publish a short research paper on death anxiety, which, I think, will be an eye opener for some of you.
But, here’s the message: Do not be afraid of death.
I know you probably can’t help it. After all, as culture anthropologist Ernest Becker has told us in his book Denial of Death, we can’t really escape our fear of death or the terror it brings us subconsciously. Without getting too far into the weeds on that one, I think Dr. Sheldon Solomon explains it a little better when he expands on Becker by explaining that we are dualistic in nature – both physical and spiritual. Our physical self is our body and our spiritual self is our mind. Because of this spiritual self, our minds, we are the only species on this plant that we know of that can imagine a past and future while experiencing a present. And, because we can imagine a future and it’s possibilities, we also know that eventually our bodies will die. Philosopher Martin Heidegger and the Buddhists both realize the truth in this statement and not only do they know it is certain, but they also know that we don’t know when it’s coming. The Buddhists say that you are only one breath away from your last. Poignant, if not scary for some.
The point here is that we are finite beings as far as we know. There is no sufficient proof of reincarnation or of an afterlife, although some assert their truth valiantly. That’s all speculation, however, it is certain and observable that we all die. All living things do and this cannot be in dispute. So, what do you with this information?
Well, some would succumb to an existential crisis of sorts. They will try to find meaning in and for their lives by pursuing what Becker calls an “immortality” project. In other words, we will seek immortality in some cultural way whether it is by having children, creating works of art and literature, or, like Freud, revolutionizing a line of thought. Social scientists and philosophers love to that. In fact, that’s pretty much their self-prescribed reason for being. There’s nothing wrong with that at all.
Many people will say that they don’t like to think about death because it’s morbid or sad. I can agree with that, especially if you think about losing a loved one, but I would ask for you to reconsider when thinking of yourself. Don’t be the soldier in the foxhole who is more threatened by his buddy’s demise than his own. If you think about the finitude of your life, then you will begin to think about its meaning. Don’t look to your prayer-book or to the stars to find that meaning, either. You won’t find it, or, if you do, it will be the meaning that someone else has ascribed to you.
Life is meaningless. This is what Alfred Camus taught us. The universe doesn’t owe you anything, especially a reason to live. This is where you come in. Existentialists like Camus realized that we must find our own meaning, what he calls the “revolt against the absurd”, and pursue it with an inner honesty. Be authentic to yourself and live the life you want to live.
To be fair, I am not an existentialist by any means since I don’t believe in Free Will but I do believe that our lives are determined to follow a st path that we oftentimes reject or refuse to accept. We purposely take the wrong forks in the road because someone is whispering in our ears to do so, but, eventually, hopefully, we find out way to the right path even of we have to backtrack.