Pondering Life, Death, and Other Imponderables


William Saroyan, author of The Human Comedy, once observed, “Everybody has got to die, but I have always believed an exception would be made in my case.” There wasn’t; he died in 1981.
It appears no exceptions are made, though there are some wealthy types who are currently investing heavily in bio-engineering and cyborg technology in hopes of becoming the exception. Which makes me wonder if they have really thought through the implications of living forever.  As the Anglo-English novelist Susan Ertz (d. 1985.) noted, "Millions long for immortality who don't know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon." 
Admittedly, for many people the thought of not-being lies behind their fear of dying. To this, Mark Twain (d. 1910) offered a reasonable and realistic perspective: "I do not fear death,” he said. “I had been dead for billions of years before I was born and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience." Ah, the down-to-earth wisdom of Mark Twain! If we can just get past the idea of eternal extinction, it all seems rather minor. Think about it: You’ve been “alive” for what, 30, 40, maybe 70 years, compared to the four and half billion years this planet has managed without you? The universe itself is approximately 13.8 billion years old—we say approximately because back then there was no accurate way of counting days, the sun being created only 4.6 billion years ago—so we may safely conclude that the universe will probably continue on without our puny 70 or 80 years on earth. 

I prefer the thinking of the Stoic philosopher-emperor Marcus Aurelius (d. 180) who said it isn't death we should fear but not having lived. His Meditations still make for thoughtful reading 2,000 years later.

I suspect most of us come to his or her own position on the mortality issue, whether we frame it in words or just intuitively sense it, and in that way we make our personal peace with the entwined mysteries of life and death, and with our own enigmatic participation in that mystery. Here's mine (d: currently unknown):

                                         I Love Beginnings
I was born just a few hours before the new year of 1948. 

So, from the start, I have always loved beginnings.

And yes, I know the pre-packaging of time into "years" and "months" and "days" is contrived and artificial, 

based on an imperfect calendar no less.

(Leap year has always struck me as cheating.) 

Yet there is, I think, within our humanity this love of beginnings,

 for each holds the potential for renewal and reinvention,

 possibly redemption, and maybe getting it right this time.

The journey that is one's life has many beginnings and many endings—

it's not always easy to tell the difference--

and if I am granted a conscious dying, then I plan to greet Death 

with open arms, telling him, "It's okay. I love beginnings."


First posted: June 12, 2020