Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Democracy of Death (and how to deal with it)

A knight is playing chess with the figure of death
The Seventh Seal

There is one thing none of us can possibly escape – death. In fact, it is the most objective and democratic event you can imagine since it affects everyone heedless and regardless of class, race, nationality, creed or sexual orientation. Rich or poor will have to face this eventual outcome. Money may buy you the best treatment options available and the wealthy may be able to desperately and artificially extend their sojourn on Earth, but no amount of money can be used as a bribe for incorruptible Death.

Death is often represented as the merciless “killer” with a menacing look and a swinging scythe. He comes to reap what had been sown from the moment of birth, that first piercing cry that signed and sealed the fateful death sentence. The countdown is on from the instant we see the world; sooner or later you will have to meet this Grim Reaper who will take you down the river of Lethe (forgetfulness) or up to the main lobby of heaven or hell.

Yet most of us believe we can somehow cheat death (we cannot, Max Von Sydow tried his best and simply could not beat him at chess, see above) and so end up fooling ourselves by ignoring or distorting the reality of pending death. Like any unpleasant event, we “procrastinate” in thought, we project it onto the far away and distant future, yet it can creep up on us like a graceful cat.

We try not to take death seriously, as witnessed in the “mockery” celebration of the Day of the Dead in Mexico. Or we prefer a future life and world of make-believe, a fairy-tale happy ending version where we impersonate fig-leafed Adam or Eve conversing in perfect harmony with all of nature and its creatures while munching on delicious fruits (stay away from the apples though as they contain the worm of knowledge). And all this time, not a single frivolous thought of anything physical (yes that includes sex).

Or we subscribe to a dark hole of emptiness where we equate death alternatively with the rusty end of this biological machine, the ticker that will tick its last beat followed by the dreamless sleep or the complete merger with nothingness, the extinction of the candle flame. In this case, we either call it the eternal Nirvana bliss (no relation to Kurt Cobain) or simply poof!

Death is also seen as the polar necessity of life, the other side of the coin. According to evolution theory, death occurs because the old needs to be replaced by the new. That can range from people to ideas, from politics to religion. For instance, it is the transition from modernism to postmodernism and builds upon Hegel's synthesis where we abandon a previous thought or practice for a more handy and useful one to the needs and realities of the constantly evolving modern world.

Death is a fact and reminder of nature that everything is running on a clock, the universal second law of thermodynamics that points to decay and chaos, where things break on a regular basis but are not fixed. Seeing that in such a case resistance is futile, we can take two important steps to deal with this ominous shadow. 

First, we need to accept the fact of our eventual nonexistence, as we continuously and awkwardly balance the slippery sword of Damocles on our heads.

The second step is a bit more uplifting. We can unite in the face of death. By fully understanding and realizing that we are vulnerable, by switching on the lights of our humanity in the knowledge and hindsight of imminent death, the experience of our own demise, we have no choice but be kind to ourselves and others.

As a result, we can refrain from any type of violence, of pain and suffering that is unnecessary and uncalled for and instead unite and unify in our fragility. Embrace the other who also has the seal of death on her forehead, let bygones be bygones and use your rather limited time to create love so that, once you are forced to receive that chilling and unwelcome visitor, your memory shall live and shine on ... long after you have left this plane of existence.

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