“When the roots of a tree begin to decay, it spreads death to the branches.” – Nigerian proverb
What does life mean; what does it require of us? What is the interplay between living and dying? What does it mean to be alive and to die, and what is the interplay between the two? We might not always know all the answers, but the guarantee that we are all dying makes us feel somehow powerless. We know that ‘to live is to die’; but we have also been taught that ‘to live is to be progressive’, in thought and in action. It is a notion that demands we renew ourselves frequently, which in turn requires us elevating our perceptions and understanding about everything we come into contact with, or even know about – including death.
Harsh as it might sound, we live with the guarantee of our eventual death. This thought should fill our aliveness with wonder. Sadly, the opposite is rather the case for many. We are so disinterested in death we do not live. We merely survive. It is no secret that if you knew you were going to die in exactly six months from today, the way you would live would strangely be different from the way you are living now. Many of us would undertake great feats instead of the dull routine we find ourselves in. When you think about the difference in attitude, one is forced to question our essence as intelligent beings.
We all know we are going to die. It could be today, tomorrow, next week or ten years from now. We simply cannot tell. But when we are told our time is near, our attitudes suddenly change. Do we not think about our mortality often? Does sleeping every day not remind you that one of these days you will not wake up? When you hear about the deaths of others, does it not remind you that even if you live a thousand years a day will come when it will be your turn? Does it have to take the counsel of a physician before you embrace your mortality? Such attitudes actually highlight the cynicism of our intellectualism. We think ourselves wise, yet we act otherwise.
Let us be real with ourselves: we are dying. And until we overcome our pathological dread of death, we cannot realise how blessed we are to have been afforded the opportunity to live. We need to embrace our mortality in order to live mindfully, meaningfully and happily. Richard Dawkins says we should consider ourselves “a privileged few, who won the lottery of birth against all odds; how dare we whine at our inevitable return to that prior state from which the vast majority have never stirred?” In other words, we should let our mortality keep us purposeful and at the same time be a catalyst for pouring the best of ourselves on life.
Death is not a mystery as popular culture dictates. Rather, it is an aspect of life many of us are unwilling to learn about. We are so scared of not being alive, we refuse to even think about it. But death moulds us into life in a way no other aspect of life can, not even living. It frees the soul from the body and allows us to live spiritually and eternally. The physical is time-bound. Unless you can see the beauty about death, you will never live. That is why the Lebanese poet, painter, and philosopher Etel Adnan was of the view that: “When you realise you are mortal you also realise the tremendousness of the future (death). You fall in love with a time you will never perceive”.
Death is inevitable. It is what make life a holistic concept. That is the reason Marcus Aurelius says: “Even if you’re going to live three thousand more years, or ten times that, remember: you cannot lose another life than the one you’re living now, or live another one than the one you’re losing. The longest amounts to the same as the shortest”. While we may not readily understand death, we need to accept the fact that it is part of life – and it is for our good. For starters, it is the presence of death that challenges us to seek meaning. Sadly, the greater number among us do not even want to think about death, let alone research on it. Perhaps it is not surprising that we keep making the same mistakes over and over.
Living sounds so elegant until you realise every moment of life is in actuality a preparation for death. Everything dies. Your longing for permanency does not and it will not erode that fact. Maybe your physician has not told you that in plain words, but you are dying. Your final end might not be today, but it will definitely come. It might not necessarily align with your aspirations, but that is what it is. As the physicist Alan Lightman says: “It is one of the profound contradictions of human existence that we long for immortality; indeed, fervently believe that something must be unchanging and permanent, when all of the evidence in nature argues against us”.
Kodwo Brumpon is a management consultant and a life coach who inspires individuals, groups and corporate bodies to think and feel that which is true, and helps them to positively respond to that which is beautiful while nudging them to let goodness govern their actions. Comments, suggestions and requests should be sent to him at [email protected]