When asked about death, most people I suspect, rightfully do not give it much thought. After all, there’s plenty more happening now than to try imagine the inevitable (and lackluster) end. And there’s something a little pallid and depressing to be had in broaching this topic. But death is quite the curiosity. If you think about it from a different angle, it seems that on the very day we are born as a noisy, crying baby, we are simultaneously given both a life to live and a death sentence to obey. When and how we die is not made known to us, but we know we will die and must die.
Yet, most people I have met are unfazed by this ambiguous and silent countdown. They rarely consider this topic, and when pressed further, give a dismissive shrug saying “it’s what it is”. Though death is often far from our minds, and though we are often taught to practice optimism by thinking happy thoughts, death clearly matters a great, great deal to everyone. It’s why religions, the supernatural or the occult (they are all the same, really) will always find worshipers, and will likely continue to exist indefinitely.
Whatever our religious subscriptions, the promises of living beyond death through a soul or vessel or by means of repentance, offer us a flicker of hope – that not just us but those we love will be able to transcend mortality. After all, during the 2011 earthquake in the Philippines, survivors in overwhelming droves immediately flocked to the churches to pray; and we have known of last minute deathbed conversions of the dying with the hopes of finding a ‘place’ for them in the afterlife. And even if we are not particularly spiritual, we sometimes plead with something, anything, just to postpone the grim finality.
Call it coping if you will, but there is something a little contemptible about a man who has to cling to tribalistic and mystical fairy tales in order to deal with death; and there’s something to be said about the funeral industry (and religious ‘services’) that preys on a person’s most vulnerable moment by levying exploitative and exorbitant fees. It’s no different from missionaries doing charity work with a Bible in hand – it’s manipulative, unsympathetic and disgusting. Yet it’s again a reminder, and a stark one, at how death really troubles us. We are not as unfazed as we think we are.
What we believe about death may seem very innocent and irrelevant. It’s not. It spills over into how we live this particular life. And you don’t have to look far to find contemporary examples: Jihadists believe feverishly (and blindly) that their deaths and suicides in their ‘holy’ war will result in a great reward of riches and a special place of recognition next to their God. How else would you get a person to willingly discard their present life? The promise of what comes after must be better.
Our outlooks on death will invariably determine not just our ability to cope but also how we approach moral and ethical situations. If you believe this life is the only life worth having, and there can be nothing beyond, then you are more likely to cherish it, more given to contemplative mulling, and more likely to value unique individuals and moments of deep significance. Knowing that death is always near doesn’t take away from living nor should it warrant desperate religious appeals. Yes, life can be brutishly short and painfully unpredictable, but it makes our personal promises more alluring and future meetings worth anticipating for.
It makes you wonder.
So have you thought (HYTA) about what you believe about death?