I’ve wondered often about death, for as long back as I can remember. I’ve thought quite often of the cessation of life– of what happens when I cease to exist. Probably because I’ve seen quite a few deaths up close and personal, lost family members to illness or accident.
What gloom and doom, I can hear some of you say– but the fact is, if you’re reading this, you’re alive. And if you’re alive, you’re going to die, just like me or anyone else, all living creatures must die.
This morning I read an article by journalist and philosopher Stephen Cave who wonders about a fly he has accidentally swatted to death.
“…it seems to me quite reasonable to think that the death of the fly is entirely insignificant and that it is at the same time a kind of catastrophe. To entertain such contradictions is always uncomfortable, but in this case the dissonance echoes far and wide, bouncing off countless other decisions about what to buy, what to eat – what to kill; highlighting the inconsistencies in our philosophies, our attempts to make sense of our place in the world and our relations to our co‑inhabitants on Earth. The reality is that we do not know what to think about death: not that of a fly, or of a dog or a pig, or of ourselves.”
He goes on to wonder at length about the significance of death, our own and that of the people and living beings around us, and I think the entire article is well worth the read.
But then, what do I know of suffering, and how do I know whether a short suffering is any less hard to bear than a prolonged one? Does a small fish suffer? Does it suffer as much as a human? Is the suffering of the human more evident to me because a human is bigger than a small fish, and the fact that I am a human myself?
- Which is why a friend’s death is devastating, whereas a man dying on the opposite side of the world, who you read about in the news, causes much less alarm. A pet’s death is painful, but the death of a random fly or snail isn’t.
- Following from this, the prospect of one’s own death is the most scary to some of people, because they’re most attached to themselves, or their survival instincts are alive and kicking. Which isn’t a bad thing.
- The bad bit, according to me, at least, is not confronting death at all, keeping it taboo, a faraway topic to avoid. No point in trying to ignore the inevitable. Not that thinking about death day and night is the solution, but thinking about it once in a while can’t be all that bad.