Reflections on Death

‘There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy. All the rest …comes afterwards’

Albert Camus

A few months back ( I can’t be exact because being entirely honest it seems till August it has been one long March), I came across this quote in a Brain Pickings post by Maria Popova. I love her posts, they offer random pockets of wisdom lighting up thought pathways which previously had been covered in dense foliage. This serendipitous find particularly struck a cord. I think about death alot- a fact which is betrayed in the turns taken when anyone engages in a truly open conversation with me. Morbid, I know, however like Camus I believe death is the most important personal phenomena we can interrogate.

I think one of my greatest fears is being on my deathbed and regretting my life thinking I should have lived it differently. The human condition is fascinating, and endlessly complex yet right at it’s core is the idea that we will die – memento mori – and we only have one shot at it. Thus individuals in their own way try to imbue their existence with meaning. Through family, careers, drugs, love, religion. Religion is particularly interesting to me. I would describe myself as a spiritual person and it seems to me it seems like things such as a career, or money as giving meaning to life are surplus. I’ll draw an analogy to housework. You tidy up, then it gets messy, you tidy the new mess up and once again clothes are strewn everywhere. The cycle continues but eventually you won’t be there, you might be dead or have moved house, then the amount of time you invested in tidying up seems like time wasted. To me alot of things seem like ways to ‘fill time’, extending my analogy, ‘life housework’. How can we bring meaning into our life when we are so obsessed with the mundane? That is where religion comes in, as it offers a framework independent of the twisted reality of earth. It offers hope and absolute meaning. From my perspective this appeal to the crux of the human condition is a major player in why people believe. It offers certainty in an uncertain world. In the framework of faith every moment counts and life isn’t pointless.

As an incoming medical student, morbidity will be something I’ll be on very close terms with. How will that feel? A dead body. A living human being is the last gatekeeper before the corpse leaves ‘our world’. Could you ever imagine being that body? What would a person’s last moments be like? Would I regret sleepwalking through life.

I watched a movie called Wanda today, about a woman who lives at the edge of reality. She has a dreaming quality about her as she ambles through her middle age and various gut wrenching episodes, yet she is scarily lucid. Daydreaming and lucid. In my opinion, Wanda’s state is deeply troubling, I had to pause the movie a few times to steel and continue. Analyses argue it’s her internalization of the male gaze, but I think this can broadly be applied to the numbing effect of modernity in it’s varying shades. We are, by and large, left as lucid daydreamers of life. However perhaps some of us want to feel deeply, live meaningfully and like Audre Lorde crave ‘to inhabit the silences with which I have lived and fill them with myself until they have the sounds of brightest day and loudest thunder.’

I’d like to end this post with a poem by American author Raymond Carver, titled ‘Late Fragment’. I find it unbelievably beautiful. In his minimalist, almost colloquial style he captures the essence of being human- feeling ‘beloved’. This poem was his final published piece, which I think gives it an even eerier ring. It is optimistic, yet probing. Who is the the questioner: himself, a family member, maybe even God? In a few words Carver has captured the essence of existence ‘on the earth’, crucially the fact that it centers on the end.

And did you get what

you wanted from this life, even so?

I did.

And what did you want?

To call myself beloved, to feel myself

beloved on the earth.

Late Fragment by Raymond Carver

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