A Brief Meditation On Lucidity Regarding Death
It would be beautiful, of course, to die with my loved ones around me. To know for certain that death was coming, and be there with what I have been so indelibly blessed by— the people I love, whose love they have made me so sure of, whose love has given my life the qualities of the sublime.
It would be another blessing if I could, in those last minutes, look upon their faces and into their eyes and thank them for all that they are and have been and will continue to be, and to assure them that I am not afraid, that I am thankful, that their hearts need not be wrung by pain on my account, for no harm is coming to me.
We shall be sad to part, of course, but we are no more assured of the finality of this particular parting than of any other we have shared. Are we really gone from one another, ever? Many that I love will never see me again, though I might live another century; my love for them and theirs for me is no less tangible, and the gulfs that sunder us inevitably and inexorably can be experienced as insignificant at the times when our hearts are open to one another’s, when the other’s presence arises in the spirit.
Death is not an escape from this world. I have been in it, which is to say that I will always have been in it; that infinitesimal span is eternal. The fixed entry points by which the limits of my physical presence in it are meaningless except in furnishing context, which morphs temporally within and without said limits. Whether I presuppose a life after death, an eternal recurrence of the universe’s alleged temporal span, transmigration of the self into different modes of being, embrace ambivalent anti-knowledge, or declare for the Void in some form or another, the fact remains that I am alive and I will die, and it will be just as it is no matter how I feel about it.
Why does the notion even possess the power of fear over us, as though it were something that fear could interact with in any utile way at all? And what is this thing, really, that we should fear it any more than anything else?
This fear has, I think, overstepped its boundaries throughout history. Avoiding predation and accident should not be confused with the idea that nothing will eventually eat you, that your physical self will not one day cease operating functions. The wise have long held that life and death are one and the same, and the less wise have parroted them well and advanced such cases; but it is worth little if it is not believed, if the knowledge of life and death being one is not a faith that propels culture. Cultures that instead fear death or worship at its altar invariably commit unsustainable violences upon themselves and upon cultures within their reach. But it is a mistake to give death any special attention at all.
Life and death are very literally, with no equivocations, conditions, or differentiations, one and the same.
This is not a metaphor, or a suggestion. This is the situation, barefaced and complete. I mean exactly what I say. And it is an absolute truth.
In the next moment, life might continue on as you have always known it — you will complete this sentence, then the rest, then you will read something else, or get up, so forth — or something unprecedented and mysterious might happen to you, something no one can prepare you for.
Maybe you have faith that you know what is coming, beyond this unpredictable transition; you have heard stories, and you believe them. Maybe you think it is purely and sheerly an end to what you are, an abrupt segue into utter nonexistence. Maybe you will dream for seven minutes, and the dream will be your entire life lived once again exactly as it was, or a new one, or the lives never end, never began, and they unravel eternally unto the hatching of a cosmic egg which births the transcendence of the universe.
Again, it doesn’t really matter. At all. Anyone who insists too much that it does very likely wants your money, or your obedience, or both. Check to see if their clothes cost more than yours. If you want fancy clothes like theirs, by all means; the pharisaical is never unprofitable. But it is all a lie.
What matters is that you are quiet and content in your spirit with your life, with your death, and with the unknowable after. That your faith or anti-faith is never a burden to you or to others. That you not suffer needlessly, or cause others to suffer needlessly. That your life occasionally snatches you into the sheer rapture of the mere fact of it; the miracle of your body, of your mind perceiving your body, of the miracles and mysteries and tragedies and comedies of the world around you, the experiences that fling you deeper and further into the vibrancy and thrumming power of the great mysterium that is the unmapped terrain of the self, the wellsprings and fountainheads of love, is grace.
It seems to me that if your pictures of what death is and what comes after make you feel, instead: violent, repressive, cold, ungrateful, unhappy and resentful of a a vicious and filthy world and filled with a need to cleanse it of the impure, and doomed, then your notions could use adjusting. Unhappily, it is not within anyone’s power to adjust them for you; these are changes that must take place in what C.S. Lewis aptly called the battlefields of our own hearts.
Whether I die in my sleep or standing, I have already said yes to it. When the moment comes, I will embrace it. I am not afraid of anything anyone can tell me about death, for I have known light in this life, and it has burned away my fear. There will be no need to mourn me, for what has transpired is not an end but a release into discovery so complete and unknown that the only comparable experience we have is birth.
All I have been and done remain, for the little while anything lasts, and that is sufficient.
“At such moments an image of the whole meaning of existence — his own during the long past and the short future ahead, that of his late wife, of his young granddaughter and of everyone in the world — came to his mind. The image he saw did not seem to be embodied in the work or activity which occupied them, which they believed was central to their lives, and by which they were known to others. The meaning of existence was to preserve unspoiled, undisturbed and undistorted the image of eternity with which each person is born.
Like a silver moon in a calm, still pond.”
— Aleksandr Solhenitsyn, from his novel, Cancer Ward