Thursday, February 3, 2011

You're Only Dead Once

By Elliott Joseph

Copyright Elliott Joseph

February 2011

To life!

Hey, wait a minute. This blog is supposed to be entertaining. What am I doing writing about death? Well maybe what has an absolute end can help provide meaning to what comes before.

Ernst Becker opens his Pulitzer Prize winning book, "The Denial of Death," with a quote from Samuel Johnson, "The prospect of death wonderfully concentrates the mind." As the realization came to me of its eventuality, whenever that may occur, I began to prepare information for those who will have the responsibility of taking care of matters after I am gone.

What started this for me? Besides my own natural thoughts, I was faced with all those tragedies and disasters in the news, floods, tornados, storms, shootings, war, disease, the ever presence of obituaries.

But what sealed it for me was deleting the names in my address book of those friends and family members who have passed away. What a terribly sad and painful thing to do! Everyone dies, but how to accept it? If I could retain the names of the dead, perhaps their ghosts would comfort me.

There is so much being written about death these days. The media, the literature, the films, the theater. It's hard to escape it.

Live forever? Jonathan Swift cautions us about that, as you may recall from that part of Gulliver's Travels about the Struldbrugs.

"Happy notion where every child hath at least a chance for being immortal...their minds free and disengaged from the continual apprehension of death." What advantages I would acquire if I lived forever, I thought.

"The question," Swift writes, "was not whether a man would choose to be always in the prime of youth, attended with prosperity and health, but how he would have a perpetual life under all the usual disadvantages which old age brings along with it.

"Loss of teeth and hair, no distinctions of taste, eating and drinking without relish or appetite. The diseases they were subject to still continue. In talking they forget the common appalation of things, and the names of persons, even of those who are their nearest friends and relations."

And so Emerson writes, "As the bird trims how to the gale, I trim myself to the storm of time, I man the rudder, reef the sail, obey the voice of eve obeyed at prime; 'Lowly faithful, banishing fear, right onward drive unharmed; port, well worth the cruise, is near, and every wave is charmed.'"

And John Donne. "Death be not proud, though some have called thee mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so."

For some, I guess, like Donne, "One short sleep past, we wake eternally, and death shall be no more, death, thou shall die."

Every creature, from the beasts of the jungle to the tiniest insect, does everything it can to avoid death, and yet there are men and women and boys and girls who come to welcome it, though in truth, others embrace it tranquilly, if not eagerly.


To life!

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