Why do you weep? Did you think I was immortal?
Louis XIV, King of France
A post I read a couple of days back triggered off these thoughts on Death, that only certainty in life.
No one who is, ever asked to be born. I am sure if we were given the choice after being comprehensively informed about the balance sheet of life, many - except perhaps the very adventurous and dare devil types - would have opted out of life. Didn’t someone say more fortunate than the king or the emperor is a stillborn child?
Yes. Life, though beautiful, can be exceedingly painful too.
And sometimes life goes so totally out of our control that we get completely cornered, and walls of despair close in on us and we can only watch on helplessly.
But the irony of it is nobody wants to give up life when that invitation is extended by death.
And, alas! Death is a certainty.
The uncertainties of life are numerous, and the only certainty about it is that we will have to leave it behind someday. It's not a cheery thought even though life can sometimes be akin to a torturing rack. Despite all its miseries, we want to hang on. Some say it's because of man's fear of the unknown - that undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns.
At the base of the story of science is man's desire to eradicate death. From the time of Adam and Eve who tried eating what they thought was the fruit of life which would defeat death, that effort continues. Medical science tries to do the next best thing. If death cannot be destroyed, it can at least be deferred. And postponing death is gaining another lease of life, ironically, with its baggage of problems! From alchemy to cloning, the goal is the same – destroy the destroyer who has stalked man ever since the birth of organism.
Riding in tandem with science are arts, religion and philosophy, all attempting to terminate death. Their tool of annihilation is lexical. Donne used convoluted arguments, aesthetically worded to establish the victory of life over death. Death be not proud, he sang .
Religions try every trick in the book to convince us that death is not the final curtain but a curtain raiser to immortality. Thus, death defeats itself. Buddha taught us how to deal with death. The best way, he pointed out, was to wipe the smirk off its face, and he showed us how to do it. Don’t be intimidated by it, he urged. There is no gloating for the victor if the vanquished is unaffected. The strategy to achieve this state of mind was so complex that his disciples did not grasp it, and disseminated a simplistic version of his wisdom, doing severe injustice to the great man’s complex philosophy!
The much extolled survival instinct of man, as we know, implies a combat against that foe called death which we know will ultimately be the victor. Go down fighting is the attitude about which much is written and sung but the subtext of all the paeans is that our attempts though heroic are all in vain. That adds poignancy to the death narrative. If we look close enough, we’ll recognize that this is actually a sour grape attitude, which goes something like what if we die so long as we die well, showing no fear of death. Thus it is that we blow up to epic proportions the victory over the bitterness of death of those people who laughed at death in the face – like a Sir Thomas Moore who removed his beard from the execution block because it grew after he was sentenced to death, and therefore was innocent of the crime for which he was being beheaded; or a Karl Marx who hollered at his housekeeper who wanted his last words, Go on, get out, he yelled, last words are for fools who haven't said enough; or that Italian painter Pietro Perugino who refused to take his last sacrament saying that he was curious to find our what’d happen to a person who died without it!
Suicide too is extolled (thought not by the state or moralists) by bards because it is perceived as outsmarting death. The person here grabs the bull by its horns before the bull gets him/her. Appealing suicides, however, happens only in stories –not in life. Shakespeare was one for romanticizing and glamourising suicide. Remember Romeo and Juliet, or still better, Cleopatra (though I can never understand why she chose that revolting reptile to do the deed!).
When people choose death over life for principles or convictions, I guess that’s a true victory. It is a pooh poohing of death. It’s an I’d rather die a thousand deaths than betray the life sustaing rules of precious life type of attitude. Ironically, it’s a choice of life over death! An establishing of the superiority of life over death. It’s the ultimate dismissal of death as an inconsequential phenomenon before which life will not bow down.
I know those post is getting me nowhere, and the only thing I have done is to trivialize the only certainty in life. But then, what else should we mortals do? Shiver and shake before this terminator whom we have known from the moment our existence began, this stalker who seems infatuated with us humans? True, there are no authorities to whom we can appeal to place restraining order on this stalker. But we can at least turn our nose up at it, right? Millions have died before us. Millions will die after us. So there’s nothing unique about death. Therefore, let’s not give it more importance than it deserves.
Sour grapes? :-)