I can’t say what scares me about dying. If not pain and discomfort at the end, what then? Material things, worldly achievements, human connections — is losing those what scares me? How can they, seeing that I’ll be dead and gone and none will matter any longer?
Boy, I realize how little I know about this “fear,” how shallow my investigation has been till now. I do know that it runs deeply, perhaps to my childhood indoctrination into a church where judgement and hell await the sinner and little was said of a loving god, one who “will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain” (Rev. 21:4)?
What else is there? Is it something reptilian, fear of the unknown, about fight and flight? I’m perplexed. So, apparently, where the ancient Greeks.*
The late John O’Donohue, a RC priest before becoming a roving philosopher-poet, suggests shifting from a fear of death to welcoming the treasures embedded in the “invisible side of life.” He writes:
“Death is the great wound in the universe and the great wound in each life. Yet, ironically, this is the very wound that can lead to new spiritual growth. Thinking of your death can help you to radically alter your fixed and habitual perception. Instead of living according to the merely visible material realm of life, you begin to refine your sensibility and become aware of the treasures that are hidden in the invisible side of your life. … Your invisible nature holds qualities and treasures that time can never damage. They belong absolutely to you. You do not need to grasp them, earn them, or protect them. These treasures are yours; no one else can ever take them from you.”
Do you fear death?
*Arnie has taken up my recent twin topics of Love and Death (Eros and Thanatos) at his blog.
text source: O’Donohue, J. (1997). Anam cara: a book of Celtic wisdom. New York: Harper Perennial, p. 222. image: “Young man meets Death,” c. 1485-90 by the Master of the Amsterdam Cabinet. Gotta love those shoes.
Click here for a modern philosopher’s take on “the appropriateness” of being afraid of death; a 48-minute lecture by Prof. Shelley Kagan of Yale University.