Tuesday, December 01, 2009

"I Don't Want to Die"

What's with the near-obsessive repetition of this shriek of terror? It's ubiquitous. And silly.

‘Mommy, I don’t want to die. I love you,’ was the alleged plea of Louisiana nine-year-old Camille Hebert before her mother stabbed her to death.

"I Don't Want to Die of a Heart Attack When I'm 25," proclaims the title of a dieting blog.

"I don't want to die, ever," comments an anonymous blog reader in response to the post of a 95-year-old who proclaims his desire to live.

Why not die?

Were any of these people composing an immortal symphony when the thought of death came to them? On the verge of curing cancer? About to sign a treaty abolishing torture, nuclear weapons and poverty forever?

Did they think they were alone in this? By the time I started writing this, about 61,900 people had died this day on the planet.*

Life's a bitch and then you die. My preferred version of this urban saying is "life's a bitch and then you marry one." The image makes a better allegory. Life does treat us roughly and we are pretty much stuck with it, like it or not. The only divorce available is death.

So why prolong it? Are we all so rich, so healthy, so overwhelmingly happy, so virtuous that living is, itself, a philosophical good or a psychosomatic pleasure?

Don't get me wrong. I'm not proposing that we all engage in mass suicide. (The environment will take care of that, if nuclear weapons don't.) I'm just wondering if we can all just look at death in the face and behave with some semblance of dignity.

I am dying. I will die. All of us are dying from the minute we're born. At some moment in the future that we don't know, we will all be dead. Probably forgotten not long after. Our bodies will turn to dust.


When I was a believer in God I thought, of course, that there was something else on the other side. Some people do everything here thinking of that other side: they are "good" to avoid "hell." I didn't particularly care: I thought being good was worthy in itself, or being bad sounded like more fun at the time.

Now I doubt there's anything at the other side of death, at least not much more than there is on this side -- which is to say, not much at all. Cosmically, we are smaller than microscopic; in terms of the span of time in which we can estimate events to have occurred, our lives are shorter than seconds.

What's so important, precious, significant, worth defending about our particular lives?

Die. Die with some self-respect, not like a quivering fool.

* Note: as I was putting the finishing touches on this post the number of deaths today stood at more than 66,800. To paraphrase the movie disclaimer: 3,900 people have died during the writing of this post. Now there's a number that is more fitting. That would likely wipe out everyone I have ever known.
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