I’ve pondered the peaceful and the not-so-peaceful aspects of life during this month of fasting. During this month Japan was shaken, flooded and possibly irradiated. People of strong conviction stood up to be shot at in several countries. Babies all over the world were born to mothers relieved not to be pregnant anymore. People from the age of one minute to one hundred and ten years died because that is what happens. As my fellow Hoosier said, “So it goes.” I’m still thinking about the fear of dying that keeps us from so much of life and how it impacts the ways we interact with each other.
Ernest Becker wrote (and won a Pulitzer Prize for) The Denial of Death (1973). In this densely written psychological treatise he talks about the impact of our primal fear of death on everything we do and believe.
“. . . as the Eastern sages also knew, man is a worm and food for worms. This is the paradox: he is out of nature and hopelessly in it; he is dual, up in the stars and yet housed in a heart-pumping, breath-gasping body that once belonged to a fish and still carries the gill-marks to prove it. His body is a material fleshy casing that is alien to him in many ways—the strangest and most repugnant way being that it aches and bleeds and will decay and die. Man is literally split in two: he has an awareness of his own splendid uniqueness in that he sticks out of nature with a towering majesty, and yet he goes back into the ground a few feet in order blindly and dumbly to rot and disappear forever. It is a terrifying dilemma to be in and to have to live with.”
I work everyday with the dying. The way we enter this last phase of life is as varied as we are. Some of us are calm, some frantic. Some call their families together and impart wisdom. Some cry out in terror until the last breath. As we enter the last homely house of this world—the place of our dying—we find that the only provisions we are allowed to take with us are the tools we have built with the raw stuff of our lives. If we have built division and anger then our deaths are characterized by those things. If we have worked at love and forgiveness then our last days are replete with love and forgiveness. If we have not spent anytime in the stars but have lived little fish lives and fought little fish wars and only thought about fish sex and food then we die little fish deaths. Salmon are better than we are then, because they fulfilled every last shred of their purpose while we missed the stars.
Sometimes I want to shake strangers and say “Wake up! You’re going to die and what are you doing to get ready?” (maybe that’s why I started a blog?) Sometimes I want to shake myself and say the same thing. This fear of death and its relation to peace, and to war is something to Ponder. (: to think or consider especially quietly, soberly, and deeply)….
(You’ve probably see “The Last Lecture” before, but in case you want to see it again…)
He died at the end of the life he lived—not the life he feared.
(more on death in the days to come…)