A Year in the Death 1/22/21
I had planned to publish this on Friday, January 8 — only two days after Part 1. But as I mentioned in yesterday’s post, my computer died that day. So, I’m just posting it today. The good news is that this delay gave you plenty of time to contemplate the following short conversation between Life and Death (author unknown):
Life asked death, “Why do people love me but hate you?”
Death responded, “Because you are a beautiful lie and I am a painful truth.”
In Part 1, I admitted that while I love this short vignette, I don’t agree with either half of Death’s response. Today, I’ll tell you why.
My problem with Death’s response is twofold.
First, life isn’t a lie. Like death, it is a truth. Both are objective biological states in that a creature is either living or dead. (Unless, of course, we’re taking a quantum-based multiverse or Schrodinger’s cat perspective…but that’s a discussion best left for another day.)
My second concern comes from my Stoic practices. The moment we label an objective experience as either “beautiful” or “painful,” we have allowed our subjective perceptions to change our interpretation and subsequent responses to it. As Ryan Holiday so succinctly put it in The Obstacle is the Way:
“The phrase ‘This happened and it is bad’ is actually two impressions. The first — ‘This happened’— is objective. The second — ‘it is bad’— is subjective.”
This is not insignificant — especially when the experience we are subjectively altering is our own deaths. Because humans generally agree with Death’s answer to Life, we spend our lives both fearful of and in denial of our inevitable deaths. Consequently, we fail to truly live, a terrible irony summarized nicely by Ernest Becker in his Pulitzer-prize-winning The Denial of Death:
“The ironic thing about the narrowing-down of neurosis is that the person seeks to avoid death, but he does it by killing off so much of himself and so large a spectrum of his action-world that he is actually isolating and diminishing himself and becomes as though dead. There is just no way for the living creature to avoid life and death, and it is probably poetic justice that if he tries too hard to do so he destroys himself.”
Therefore, I challenge you to ask yourself daily: In trying to avoid the truth that is my death, am I actually killing the truth that is my life?
If you’re like most human beings, I’m guessing the unfortunate answer is “yes.”
This is part of a year-long series I’ve entitled “A Year in the Death.” As I discussed in my first entry on January 1, I am going to contemplate and write about death each day of 2021. Some days, my thoughts and writings may be detailed essays. On others, they may be little more than the contemplation of a quote about death or a piece of art representing death or dying. Also, I may not share every daily contemplation with you, reserving my thoughts to my private journal. But I am committed to the practice and invite you to follow along throughout the course of the year.