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.

So?

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.

7 comments:

Lucy said...

My wise sister says in response to folks like you who claim we're only specks in the universe: "Have you ever considered that the universe might be just a small speck in you?"

Anne said...

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

Usually, someone is important to another person.

I am not opposed to death, I contemplate that the sometime discomfort in my leg may be deep vein thrombosis but do not do anything significant about it.

But I can panic (sort of) about the lives of people around me and from that I can figure that my death (at least an untimely one) would upset them. So in my conceit I have some sense of preservation to avoid the worst scenarios.

The child that you quote would have relied on instinct; she wouldn't know as you believe that there is nothing beyond death. What she must have known, like the Jew, is that life is beautiful.

I suppose it might all be about balance and everyones place in life as a whole. I know that death can be an agonizing hole and that it can be a beautiful transition. For the sake of society I prefer the latter.

Andy said...

"Life's a bitch and then you die" - great 'quote' and I use it often (probably too often).

And I agree. We're all dying. It's OK to want to try to live longer as long as it's not the overriding goal since, in the end, there's no way to live forever (and I, for one, wouldn't want to) but it's the quality not quantity that's important and I think people miss this fact.

Great post.

Jeanne said...

George will meet you on the other side and will have many stories to tell you. Jeanne

Anonymous said...

Le parole di Lucy mi hanno commosso fino alle lacrime. Che sarebbe questa sorella cosi' saggia?

Donaldo

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Oh, I feel so much better now.

Maybe our unwillingness to die is for the very reasons you state our individual lives are meaningless -- we want to do something glorious before we leave this mortal coil, and most of us have not done so yet.

Geneviève said...

Then you have all the circus around the funeral, for example little John-John well taught how to salute his father's coffin, so that the populace could not stop crying... Ah? that is different? Ah, OK.