Because I Could Not Stop For Death

This is the latest in my series of blog entries taking a fresh look at a variety of topics. I’ve set up a page on the blog explaining the project and linking to my entries. This post’s topic is “Death.”

Well now, everything dies, baby, that’s a fact
But maybe everything that dies someday comes back
Put your makeup on, fix your hair up pretty
And meet me tonight in Atlantic City

— Bruce Springsteen, “Atlantic City”

From the moment we are born, we are dying. All of us. It’s eventual, inevitable and universal.

The only question is when. And, ultimately, that’s not really much of a question. Fifty years from now, most of us will be gone. A century, almost all. We hear about huge tragedies that kill hundreds or thousands and our minds boggle, but all of those people were already marked for death. Even a global catastrophe, the end of life as we know it, only speeds things up a little for people who would die soon anyway, relatively speaking.

If a man were to be killed today in a earthquake that kills thousands, it would be considered a disaster.  But the same man could die today, and with greater probability would, in a car accident on his way home, and it would be considered tragic only to his near and dear. The same man dies 30 years later, and the passing is considered natural.

And not only do we die, but our creations all too often do as well. Empires crumble. Businesses close. Photographs fade. Buildings burn. Books disappear into obscurity. Relationships end.  Languages die out. “Look upon my works, ye mighty, and despair!

Everything that dies does not, in fact, someday come back. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, since Monkey’s Paw abominations can be all too common and are best avoided.  Few things worth recreating can actually be recreated in a way that does the original justice. Witness most romantic relationships, the Star Wars movie series, and the Los Arcos Mexican restaurant in Indianola, Miss.

We die. It’s what we do. It’s a part of who we are.

Many of us believe that death our death, and the deaths of loved ones, are merely the passage into something better. We believe it, but we have a hard time living it. Arguably, if we fully embraced that, we’d have no reason to want to stay in this life.

But so much of our focus has to do with the things undone, and the things left behind. We consider it a tragedy when someone dies young because of the things they never got to do, and because of the impact the loss has on the friends and family they leave behind.  We consider it a disaster when large numbers are killed, because that tragedy is multiplied.

So where does that leave us.  To quote a great, if fictional, man, “How we deal with death is at least as important as how we deal with life, wouldn’t you say?” But how do the two relate. A song by Rebecca St. James argues that “until you find something worth dying for you’re not really living.” But, I believe that a corrolary is also true: “Until you find something worth living for, you’re just slowing dying.”

If the tragedy of an early death is the things not done, and the impact the loss has on those left behind, then those things should be the focus of our life — doing the things we would want to leave this world having done, and living in such a way that our lives have more impact on those around us than our deaths.

Because we only have so much time.

3 Responses

  1. This is a wonderful post. I love how you put into words what few people will touch with a ten foot pole. I feel whether we lose someone who is young or someone who is old and lived what by our definitions a “full and wonderful life” the void their absence leaves is still felt.

    It is how others impact our lives that have bearing on how we handle their loss when they are taken. Usually, whether the person is young or old, someone is impacted at a time when the presence of that person is needed the most, I think.

    However you and Samuel Beckett make a good point. “We are all born astride a grave…” Does that mean we should live our lives as though each day is our last? I don’t think so, but I do think we should try to remember to say those three little words that people close to us long to hear daily, if we don’t show it by action…You know those little words we often forget to utter when in a hurry called, “I love you.”

    If we die after they hear that, for some reason people seem to have a little more comfort. Don’t ask me why, but I remember my father telling me that at the end of every conversation–the last time being in February of 1995–hours before he passed away.

  2. Good thoughts. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Very true…

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