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One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star. -Nietzsche

  August 19, 2008

Death as adventure

Young reckless death has an unintended artistic quality to it in how the actor experiments with eternal nothingness, once again beating the rest of us to a new destination and leaving us to wonder and reflect upon the person whose voyage has forever left us without them. Death awakens all observers, even sobering those drunk on modernity's numbing distractions, and is perhaps the one real thing still recognized by the monotonous mental zombies of our day.

We reflect on the great deeds of a person, not so much the little things they did unless they are examples of a general character, but more often of the greater efforts to which they contributed their time and vigor. They are gone now, just as they once did not exist, but what they were able to achieve while alive is given posthumous respect and veneration, like a miracle of lasting substance willed forth during a strange brief period before the universe again returned them to nothing.

In this way, we are like condemned prisoners who know our fate but hold firm to a code of honor. In theory we could all do nothing but consume entertainment products, drink ourselves into a happy stupor, perform our daily labor obligations, and use one another for social amusement. But here too, even morons of all educational classes have an instinctual respect for those who did what was right and necessary instead of taking the easy way out as most do.

Three forces collide here that make this way of life inevitable for those who are naturally heroic. The first thing that is needed is a personality that does not change based on a particular situation. One holds firm to one's values and character despite the opportunity for shortcuts and intellectual laziness. Secondly, one has an instinct for honesty and justice that does not set its sights upon a single outcome but considers all things in the abstract. If a judgment does not favor oneself, one's friends, or loved ones, but is nevertheless the correct assessment, it must stand because of the larger principle, and is never compromised for personal advantage. Such a mind is a fair mediator of conflict who can correctly see all sides and render proper measure of its substance and its complex contingencies. Finally, the person is driven by either a spiritual realization or a lack of concern with the physical self (or both!) in which expending oneself is not seen as a burden but as a necessary and appropriate way to accomplish one's goals. Age will slow the body and soon the body will be gone anyway, but in the meantime some battles can be fought and won. It is better to attempt and accomplish a few things that matter than to hide from life like a semi-animated corpse addicted to petty amusement.

As we grow older, we encounter more and more death. Loved ones leave us, friends and acquaintances surprise us by checking off the planet, and respected anchors of life we imagined youthful and enduring disappear one by one.

A life of a thousand years would change little, other than cluttering the planet with many more bored, scared, timid people afraid of living. Nor does hooking people up to machines to give a few more years of physical existence pay proper tribute to the spirit of life. It is the quality of life that matters, and there are too many examples of a person who died young but lived a far fuller life than the older people around him.

Nature gives us death so that new life can have an opportunity. The people we respect appear by showing their feats and putting their personalities into their works. After their time has expired, the stage is cleared so others have a chance to show what they are made of before they too are cleared from the stage.

Death is not to be feared, but rather we should shake from the prospect of a passive life in which a person holds back from giving all that they are.


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