No matter how old you are death is a fascinating subject. How can it not be? It’s the big full stop, if not exclamation point, the moment all of the sound and fury that makes up our living moments really come to signify nothing.
My relationship with death has changed over the years, in probably quite standard manner. When you’re young it seems very much an abstraction. If you’re anything like me you harbour a sneaking suspicion that you may actually turn out to be immortal. So far, so good.
It changes as you get older and encounter death in reality. You not only get a sense of the drear detail of death and the lead-up to it, but are exposed to the sense of loss it entails in those left behind. The absolute finality of death becomes apparent – the person near and dear to you and such a part of your life is no more, and never will be again. At the back of our mind we realise this awaits us too.
That’s pretty well where I’m at now, but I’m positive there is another stage at least to come, as touched on by Epstein in his article.
It seems a ritual of becoming a senior citizen to scan the obituaries daily. I remember my grandmother did it. My mother too. Suddenly death, from being somewhere in the next suburb, seems just around the corner. Death is anything but an abstraction at this point.
I’ve always wondered what it must feel like to wake up and know you can die at any moment. That’s true of all of us, but much truer once you hit a certain age – is it 70? People you know, you grew up with or who were cultural contemporaries, are now falling off the perch in a semi-regular manner. It must seem a bit random: who’s next?
Is there reassurance in reading the obituaries (phew, I’m not there yet), or a perverse fear? What purpose does it serve to check off people as they begin the big sleep?
I imagine that you become conditioned to living on that precipice, but from where I sit now it seems spooky nonetheless.
I don’t want to die, but I’ve accepted that I likely will some day. I hope it’s a day far, far away. There’s still so much I want to see and do, so much still to experience and try. That’s what makes the time we have now important. Even if I remain alive I age. I pass from one state to another. There are things easier, more apt, in the state I am in now and feel reluctant to leave. Ultimately to grow old must be a fact of mind as much as body.
I’m not ready to grow old, and I’m totally against dying.
Btw, Joseph Epstein is one of my favourite essayists. I’ve been reading his stuff for years now, always graceful and witty, and often modestly wise. He’s one writer I’d happily read a collection of.