Full disclosure; I identify as a stoic, at least for now. It means, albeit philosophically, that I’m obsessed with death, that I aim to live with no fear of death. I look at our bodies as decaying matter, and those obsessed with it as self-morticians. Do with that information as you please, now let’s go.
Of all the equalizers, death is the ultimate; rich or poor, old or young, the writing is on the wall; we all die at some point. To fear death is to fear life, for there can be no life without death. Likewise, to embrace death is to embrace life. To accept the ever-diminishing space between our present and our death is to attain true freedom, neither the gods nor men can scare you with death. Epictetus says, “I have to die. If it is now, well then I die now; if later, then now I will take my lunch, since the hour for lunch has arrived – and dying I will tend to later.”
Human lives are brief and trivial. Yesterday a blob of semen, tomorrow embalming fluid, ash.. or bones. A mere name at most – and even then that is just a sound, an echo. The things we want in life are empty, stale, and trivial. Dogs snarling at each other.Marcus Aurelius
Here’s a question for you, what do we lose when we die? Like really, what do we actually lose? I believe, like Marcus Aurelius, that we only lose the present.. the now. For we don’t have the past; we can’t do anything about it.. neither change it, nor interact with it. But neither do we have the future, like the past, we can’t change the future, neither can we interact with it. And since you can’t lose that which you don’t have, what is there to lose? Nothing but the “now,” that brief instant. Whether you die at 18 or 81, you only lose that present moment in which you die. In short, it matters not how long you live, that’s irrelevant. When it’s your time to die, all you have to offer, all it can take away from you anyway, is the present. Is that something to be scared of?
This, therefore, implies that one shouldn’t lose sleep on how long they’ll live, more emphasis should be on how well. Seneca captures it in a letter, “Men do not care how nobly they live, but only how long, although it is within the reach of everyman to live nobly, but within no man’s power to live long,” or Barbara Ehrenreich’s advice, “You can think of death bitterly or with resignation, as a tragic interruption of your life, and take every possible measure to postpone it. Or, more realistically, you can think of life as an interruption of an eternity of personal nonexistence, and seize it as a brief opportunity to observe and interact with the living, ever-surprising world around us.” Point is, stop being afraid, be alive.
ON Death of a loved one
What about the loss of a loved one, you ask, how do I deal with that grief? Let me borrow from Anne Lamott, “You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.” It’s like change, because regardless of our feelings on change, we have to embrace it. Marcus Aurelius says, “loss is nothing else but change, and change is nature’s delight.” I disclosed up there that I’m a stoic, I believe that we should live in accordance to our nature. They say, ‘little love little grief, big love big grief,’ meaning grief is the price you pay for love. And that’s ok. For it is in our nature to love.
There is the solitude of suffering, when you go through darkness that is lonely, intense, and terrible. Words become powerless to express your pain; what others hear from your words is so distant and different from what you are actually suffering.John O’Donohue
I can’t write on death and suffering without quoting Vicktor Frankl. He says, “If there is a meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering. Suffering is an eradicable part of life, even as fate and death. Without suffering and death, human life cannot be complete.” So if you choose to love, then embrace grief as the flip of it, as prosperity gospel preachers say, “that’s your portion.”
Frankl also says, “When a man finds that it is his destiny to suffer, he will have to accept his suffering as his task; his single and unique task. He will have to acknowledge the fact that even in suffering he is unique and alone in the universe. No one can relieve him of his suffering or suffer in his place. His unique opportunity lies in the way in which he bears his burden.” In short, when you chew a razor blade, you spit blood. Praying and wishing for good things alone is not just stupid, it’s selfish. Instead, one should pray/wish for the ability to handle whatever life throws at you, pray only for strength. Jonathan Kariara captures it beautifully in this poem:
Grass will grow
If you should take my child Lord
Give my hands strength to dig his grave
cover him with earth
Lord send a little rain
For grass will grow
If my house should burn down
So that the ashes sting the nostrils
Making the eyes weep
Then Lord send a little rain
For grass will grow
But Lord do not send me
I ask for tears
Do not send me moon hard madness
To lodge snug in my skull
I would you sent me hordes of horses
But do not break
The yolk of the moon on me.
– by Jonathan Kariara (1935 – 1993)
The secret is to think of yourself as dead, like you have lived your life already. Now take what’s left and live it properly. Memento Mori, y’all..
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