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The holiday season’s upon us, and given that it’s going on because of the birth of Christ some 2000ish years ago, it’s perfectly natural for my brain to jump on the topic of death. Let’s posit we can suspend belief long enough to engage in a bit of fiction: there exists a machine that could tell you how you’d die, but not when. This is a simple enough premise put forth by the green T-Rex on the left. Granted, that is morbidly entertaining to think about, and was what led to a group of writers to put together the book/ebook available here. I like what I’ve read so far, and I suppose other people do for the sheer “What would you do?” factor.
I’m a tad surprised by how many of the authors assume some level of mass hysteria would happen to go on as people are forced to face their own mortality. Maybe it’s because I did so much existentialist reading while simultaneously plowing through the Classics (which means shifting from “We’re going to die and it doesn’t matter what we do BUT we can at least control what we think” to “Let’s sit down and think about this Life conundrum, and get to the point where we agree that the good/virtuous life is the best life”) but I am more or less at peace with the fact that like all mortal creatures, I will one day die. It’s a given, it’s the only guarantee we get at birth.
If you’re like most folks and religiously inclined, then your faith likely tries to draw out for you the importance of your soul and gives you some sort of afterlife to soften the blow of a physical death. As a species, we don’t like feeling inconsequential and a brief glance at the past to our most primitive selves shows a devout respect for death and hope for something more beyond the grave. Elaborate burial rituals and mummification are just the tip of the iceberg, philosophers for as long as they’ve been philosophizing and story-tellers for as long as we’ve possessed the skill of speech strive to explain our purpose on this planet.
We humans as a collective are capable of so much, there has to be a meaning, and if there’s a meaning and it’s not evident in this life then there absolutely has to be an afterlife. We can’t have the brains we do by just a fluke of nature, right? The bit of me that makes me ME is different than the bit of you that makes you YOU and makes both of us different from a rock, a plant, an insect. Cogito ergo sum, the thinking part is comforted by the concept of an intangible soul that separates our species from all others and grants it a singular space in an otherwise cold and lonely universe.
And despite the desperate search for meaning and attempts to save our collective souls, as a species we then commit atrocious crimes against each other and the planet daily. As Oscar Wilde said, “We’re all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” and I can only hope that one day we as a species manage to grow up a little and cease from our constant search for calamity. Chasing an ever elusive and fading youth, looking for science to find a miracle cure, abstaining from fats and coffee and smoking and whatever’s been shown to now kill you overlooks the very real fact that no matter what — you and I are going to someday die.
It’s an inevitability, and I hope that when my turn to dance with death comes along, I’ll have the good humor to be like Mr. Dull below. He was born into the dull name, but that didn’t mean he had to live like it. Life is one grand experience, and maybe if we kept that in mind, we could manage to make more of our meager existences.