I died recently. That’s news to me. However, as Mark Twain once said, “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.” I’m afraid I’m still alive and kicking.
I’ve been terribly busy as of late but things are letting up and I’ve been itching to write something. So when I get some time to take a breath expect some new content.
Also, I think I’ve decided to start a secondary, personal blog for things too inane for this forum and for perhaps other kinds of writing that wouldn’t fit here either. I’ll let you know when it’s up and running.
In the United States we are guaranteed many rights, indeed, as it was written by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence, we are endowed with “certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” While all three are, without a doubt integral to our nation, the first is what I would like discuss today. Specifically, we are guaranteed the right to live, that is, we have a right to persist. The opposite, however, is not guaranteed. We do not possess the right to die.
When it comes to the cessation of one’s own life, the topic is divided into two types of death. On the one hand, there is euthanasia, and on the other, suicide. Euthanasia is most often used by veterinarians in reference to animals. The term comes from the Greek “eu” meaning good and “thanatos” meaning death. Whether applied to humans or animals, euthanasia is the deliberate termination of a life for the purpose of ending undue suffering. This is not to be confused with “pulling the plug” on patients who can no longer live without the assistance of machines. Suicide, as common as it is, does not require an explanation. The issue is that aiding anyone in their own end is illegal across the vast majority of the United States. You have no right to die.
It strikes me as curious that at 18 you are able to take your life into your own hands, to a degree, in the form of enlisting. It would appear that you are able to own your own life insofar as you are able to die in service to your country. This means that as an adult you may make the decision to put your life in possible peril, only if it benefits your country. On the contrary, if you wish to put your life in guaranteed peril at no one’s behest but your own, then you must not be in your right mind.
The question then becomes, “Is it really irrational to want to die?” We are all endowed with a will to live by virtue of being alive. It is our genetic imperative that we continue to persist. It would then seem odd that someone, undoubtedly born with this imperative, should want the exact opposite of what it compels. But does that make it irrational? In short, no. While the will to live is a genetic imperative, so is the need to procreate, and millions of people quell that desire daily without anyone thinking twice about it. The reason it seems especially irrational is that it’s so difficult to empathize with a person who wants to die. We cannot put ourselves in their position, not wholly anyway, and so we cannot make the same feat of will, or feel the absolute resignation required to wish for our own end.
While wishing for death is not inherently irrational, that is not to say that it is never irrational to wish for death. However, instead of a question of “if,” it then becomes a question of “why.” Imagine for a moment a teenager, this teen is on the receiving end of incessant bullying for whatever reason. Eventually, they reach a breaking point, they have come to the conclusion that they no longer want to live. Is the teen being irrational? I would say “yes,” the kid has hardly had a real taste of life yet and already wants to end it. Given some time and perspective they might realize that eventually the bullying will end and the rest of their life can play out in a happy, fruitful manner. But in the moment, in that situation, they want to die. I will give you another example. A few years back my grandmother had a stroke. Unaware that she was having a stroke, she refused to go to the hospital. The stroke caused her brain to swell, the pressure crushed her medulla oblongata, and by the time she was taken to the hospital there wasn’t much that could be done to help her. She could no longer pump her own blood or breathe her own air. When I went to see her she had already been like that for a few days. She was no longer the person I once knew. As she laid there in a coma I couldn’t help but feel that she was already dead—being forced alive by machines. Though she couldn’t speak, I know that she could not have wanted to live like that. Were I in her position, I wouldn’t. Assuming she did want to die, was she being irrational? I don’t think so.
I began this rant on the topic of rights, it is important to realize that rights aren’t concerned with rationality. It is every adult’s right in this country to smoke cigarettes, it’s not rational to do so, but it is well within their right. So, too, should it be your right to end your own life if you so choose. Though circumstances may make your decision more or less rational to the opinions of outside parties, you should still be able to do what you want with your own life. Some lives may become unbearable to the person living them, and to deny them their own death—to state plainly that they must suffer another day of their own existence simply because you think it’s wrong for them to end it—is cruel. I do not believe in the notion that every life is sacred and that to take one’s own life would be to trespass in the demesne of gods. The simple fact of the matter is that your life should be your own, to live out in happiness, or to end it should it become unbearable.
Death: the final destination on our journey through life. At some point in our development, that truth eventuality becomes apparent to us. How we cope with the fact that one day we will die can define the rest of our lives. Some may seek to defy, or quietly accept, death; while others spend their lives in denial until their hour is upon them. However one copes with the inescapable, once they are gone, whatever preoccupation they had with their end, comes to an end—not so for those they leave behind. Indeed, when a loved one ceases to exist, it is then our turn to deal with another truth of life: people you know and love will die. Eventually, you, too, will mourn.
I have never celebrated Christmas, when I was younger the day held no meaning for me. However, every year for the last four years, I now remember someone very dear to me who died on the 25th of December. As far as I’m concerned, he was a model human being, someone you could look to for examples on how to live a good life. But now he’s gone, and so I mourn. I think, perhaps, that since atheists tend not to believe in souls, that those who do think we do not mourn. We absolutely mourn. Though how we mourn is likely a little bit different.
A religious person that believes in souls, likely believes in an afterlife. This thought brings them solace, not only in their eventual end, but in the end of others as well. They think to themselves that this end is not the end but merely an intermission. They look forward to seeing their loved ones when they, themselves, die. And so, in their mourning they grieve not for the cessation of their loved one’s existence, but rather, for their time spent apart. That is, if they truly believe in an afterlife. Whether they think their loved one went to heaven or hell is an entirely different reason for them to grieve. It seems to me, however, that if one truly believed in an afterlife, and they believed that their loved one went to heaven and that they were heading in the same direction, that there would be no real reason to grieve. If you are to have an eventual eternity to be together and catch up, what are a few years without them? I think deep down, we all understand to some degree that we will never see these people again. That we will never again experience any of the wonderful or annoying things they once did. And I think that is as the heart of why anyone mourns.
For one that does not believe in an afterlife, death is final. We understand that this is no intermission, that, indeed, this is the end, and that, in time, we too shall cease to exist. We do not pity the dead, we know they can neither receive it, nor care. We know that they do not miss the life they once had, and that they are not looking over us. We know that when you die it is neither happy nor sad—it is nothing. And so when we mourn, we do not mourn the dead, we mourn for ourselves. In this way, mourning is a selfish kind of grief. We are sad that we will never see our friend or loved one again. We are angry that they were taken away from us before we were ready to let them go. And we empathize with the others who lost them as well.
But mourning is not only selfish and grieving for our loss is not its most important function. No, the reason for mourning is in memory. Mourning gives us a chance to remember those who are no longer with us. To recall who they were as a person and the lessons that they taught. Our tears are then a tribute to the memory of a person we once cared for; a reminder that they once existed and touched our lives in an unforgettable way. Every time we remember those we’ve lost, they come alive again within us, and can teach us lessons, still. As long as we remember they will continue to exist. For we are here for all too short a time, but it is only when you are forgotten that you really die.
There are countless variables each individual must address, or come to terms with, over the course of their life. Be they which society they were born into, how much money they have, or whether or not they are attractive. Every person will deal with these variables in their own way, and each challenge will present its own unique constraints. However, these are all “soft” constraints; they come and go and are by no means universal. There is one constraint, however, which we are all at the mercy of: time.
There are only so many hours in a day, and, generally, most people are asleep for a third of them. When we are young none of this matters. We sleep when we sleep and we play when we don’t. Time moves slowly for a child; everything is new, there is so much to experience. Every day there is an adventure to be had. As we age it seems as though time speeds up. A year just isn’t as long as it once was. You find yourself reminiscing with old friends about something that happened a year ago, only to be told that it actually happened three years ago. Where does it go? What happened to all the time of your youth; when you couldn’t wait for summer, and the days plodded along?
Well, a couple of things happened to your time, none of them good. Namely, you grew up, that was your first mistake. Gone now are the days of adventure and wonder, in their place are monotony and drudgery. One day is very much like the last, which is very much like the next, which will be very much like the days and years to come. Indeed, one day bleeds into the next and then the next until they hardly have discernible features at all. And so in thinking back it becomes more and more difficult to decide if something happened two days, or three weeks, ago. “Same shit different day:” an epithet for a generation, for a society, for a species.
But why? How did we allow this to happen? We allowed our time to be bought and sold before we ever owned it. We allowed ourselves to be convinced that if we put in our time, that if we paid our dues, we would have time to ourselves in the future. But what good is time when you have no life to enjoy it? And this is where we understand why time has sped up. We come to the realization that time isn’t money; time is life. And like sands passing through an hourglass, so too, does our life slip away from us. Time never actually sped up. Time only seems to speed up when we come to terms with the fact that we are hurling through space, and time, to our eventual demise. Thus the value of time becomes more apparent as you age. It’s unfortunate that we realize this only after we’ve already resigned ourselves to our monotonous fates. So then you’re left with two options; they’re the only two you’ve ever had. Keep drudging and watch your time slip away, or move faster to keep up.
Do what you can, while you can. Don’t worry; no one is ever late for their date with Death.