04 February 2010

That Good Night

Nothing profound or new to be offered here. But attempting to grasp the reality of death challenges me continually. Spinoza says that the free man thinks least of all of his death, but I am not free.

The idea of death as ‘no more’ I find incomprehensible. Someone dies, and they lie as if asleep, but they will not awaken. Having always awakened from my sleep, I cannot imagine what not to awaken must be like. Of course, this implies a consciousness of not waking, and the dead do not possess such thought. I think. The dead do not dream, I believe. And so perhaps it is that they do not even know that they are dead. We are . . . only a too, too solid flesh and that is all, soon to melt, thaw and resolve itself into a dew. Dust to dust. But having acted always with consciousness, I cannot imagine the absence of everything that is Death. No more. Nothing. Absolute nothingness without even the realization of the nothingness. The notion appalls more that it frightens, though it frightens by complete absence of credibility.

What exactly is this thing we refer to as death? The Torah keeps describing death as a return to kin; death is a reunion. Hamlet calls it an undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns. Death is a place. Rage, rage against the dying of the light, Dylan Thomas urges his father. Death is a darkness. Sometimes death is portrayed as a brilliant pure light; death is blinding illumination. Death where is thy sting: death is a poisonous animal inflicting pain and suffering, though in fact the suffering of the dying is relieved by death. It is the living who would feel death’s sting. Death be not proud: death is personified as a vain and unworthy human.

Clearly, death is all around me, but I understand it none the more because it is so proximate. I am familiar with its presence but fail to comprehend it. It is non-being, and this makes no sense to a being.


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