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.
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.
Prev: Sit back and enjoy the carnage
Next: Zappa as prophet (1986)
I want to be with those who know secret things or else alone.
-Rainer Maria Rilke