Saturday, October 10, 2009

Death Be Ye Not Proud

With Halloween fast approaching, I've been contemplating humanity's obsession with death. Regardless of the era, culture, or ethnicity, part of what makes us human is our ability to ponder future states of affairs. Rather than simply living on base instinct that drives our day-to-day decision making processes, human beings are capable of reason, and, as such, have often wondered what really happens when we shuffle off this mortal coil, so to speak.

Some cultures employ a shadowy agent of the grave, who comes and gathers or transports souls to the world beyond. Some stipulate a resurrection, whether in a positive light, such as the Christian heaven or the Hindu reincarnation, others in a more ghoulish light, such as vampirism or zombification. Some believe that there is no life beyond this life and that when we die we simply cease to exist.

In many ways, death is the driving force of life. The thought that our time is short makes us accomplish more, in the hopes that our dreams will be fulfilled before we are dust. It seems that without death, life would be fairly meaningless. Death and life have a sort of co-eternally necessary descriptory nature, similar to light and dark, cold and hot, or right and wrong. All of these words require at least knowledge of the other word in order to be fully understood. It would make no sense to say that it is dark if we didn't know it could be other than dark, and cold is not something we can fully understand if we've never felt heat. To say that it was right to do something would mean nothing if there were not things that it would have been wrong to do.

In an odd way, death teaches us a lot about what life means. There are few things as formative in the life of a child as realizing for the first time that nothing lives forever. Death can be a comfort for some, while others struggle to delay it for as long as possible. And yet, ultimately, death becomes the great equalizer: no matter your social status, no matter your ethnicity, no matter how beloved you are, no matter how many people despise you, no matter whether or not you've lived a "good" life, death claims us all, from the mightiest emperor to the lowliest beggar on earth. When it comes, the best you can hope for is a chance to say goodbye and look back on your life without too many regrets.

"The Promised Land always lies on the other side of a wilderness."