I’ve been thinking about death. No, not the ax murderer or Bates Motel features. And not the physical or mental pain that might precede it. Not even about the pain for those destined to die later, but not just yet.
Someday I and others will find out if I’m fooling myself, but I profess to have no fear of death. However, since I am not looking to die, I’ve also no reason to short circuit the natural death-avoidance reactions. Yes, I would dodge a bullet if I could. Frankly, I’m having too much fun to intentionally turn in my library card quite yet.
An NPR interviewer recently, to introduce her question to an author, led off with “Of course, I haven’t experienced death . . .” No, she hadn’t—which seems rather obvious—but what isn’t as obvious is that she never will. Only other persons will experience her death.
This point won’t go over well with folks who believe there’s an afterlife (despite there being zero evidence for one): nobody will know that he or she has just died. Woody Allen, who said, “It’s not that I’m afraid to die, I just don’t want to be there when it happens,” will literally get his wish. Let me illustrate.
When I die, others will say, “John’s dead.” But I, John, won’t be aware of it. I might have been aware death was imminent—“this plane’s going down,” “that 18 wheeler is coming right at me,” or merely “oops.” Perhaps I will have been aware of the darkening silence of fading away. But my death itself will be other people’s business, not mine. Seriously, my death will belong to others, not to me. You could say I’ll be the last to know. That’d be wrong, of course, since the memo won’t even be coming my way. All my verbs will switch immediately into past tense: is->was, drives->drove, lusts->lusted, loves->loved, writes->wrote, puns->punned (that last one might cause some celebration).
I will not even have “lost” my life. I might have been in the process of losing it, but having done so, there will be no me to have lost anything. The universe will have gotten along without me for over 13 billion years, and even then didn’t pay much attention to the few decades it had me, living as I was between two bookends of non-existence (plagiarized wording). I will have been—indeed already am—quite temporary, hardly a blip on the screen. As Dale McGowan puts it in Atheism for Dummies, “I am a piece of the universe that woke up” (and that not for long).
Incidentally, isn’t it strange that religious believers, for whom an afterlife is a big deal, are as frightened by death as anyone? Jesus, they believe, got a head start on the afterlife phenomenon . . . sort of a beta test. Good thing it went well, for it enabled St. Paul to say if it hadn’t come out right, the whole religion would have had to be scrapped. What Paul, the performer formerly known as Saul, didn’t mention was all those other faith-celebrities who’d beat Jesus to it. But I digress.
Unashamed, I will digress a bit more. I’ve used the word afterlife in its usual Christian meaning wherein there is survival of personality and that loved ones, even marginally liked ones, get to see each other again. (I’ve never known how that works with “loved ones” who despise each other.) I was asked just yesterday by a waiter acquainted with my infidel views, to opine on the New Age spirituality of our “energy” surviving past death. Of course, all the molecules and energy inherent in matter do survive and go back into the cosmic pool to be used to build Madonna’s grandchildren, submarines, and waste treatment plants.
But New Agers mean more than a chemist’s version of afterlife. So I had to disappoint my sincere questioner, making it up in the tip, feeling as I do that spiritualists are as misled by phantasmagoria as are Christians. OK, digressing twice is enough; now, where was I? Oh yes, to borrow again from our man Paul (Ever notice how much he keeps popping up? That’s a skill handy on the road to present day Damascus.): “O death, where is thy sting?”
Truth is, except for those left behind (itself just a temporary state), death is not only not stinging, but is a non-event. I won’t know my own death happens. As Epicurus tried to tell us 2,500 years ago, for the hero or heroine in that unstoppable, recurring play, death is the least worrisome part of life. I was “dead” before mid-1938 and it was probably the most relaxed and peaceful I’ve ever been.
So, to me, the only importance of that eventual event will be the pain caused to my wife, family, and close friends. For me, now a healthy 75, I am far more afraid of living too long.
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