Saturday, January 29, 2011

Life and Death Reversed

I enjoy reading obituaries and have made a daily habit of going through the death announcements each morning.  I like to read nice things about people even if I didn't know any of them, and I find it touching that they are now missed because they were so very loved.  It's also good to see them be acknowledged for all that they did in life, even if it is condensed down into just a handful of sentences.

And sometimes an obituary is really interesting reading such as the case of the woman who in her teens had been one of the original Ziegfeld Girls or of the gal who had got the highest scores ever given on the state nursing examinations.  But then, too, reading the obituaries is an opportunity to be grateful that, for today at least, I'm not suffering the sorrow of having lost someone who was dear to me. 

Now I don't know for sure if this habit of reading the obituaries is responsible for my astute awareness of the inevitability of death but it definitely reminds me on a daily basis that eventually every one of us, regardless of age, race, or social status, will take that final breath which signals the end of our time in this particular body.  We don't know how, or when, it will happen but it will most definitely happen.

A few hundred years ago, someone like me wouldn't have needed to read the obituaries every day to be well aware of death because in the early days of this country, from colonial times up until the early part of the twentieth century, people's lives included many more reminders than what we have today.  Just the sheer increase in frequency of death is one factor which separates our ancestors from us in this regard, not to mention the familiarity with burial preparation within the home.

However, what I find absolutely intriguing, though, is how so many people fear the end almost to the point of panic.  Where did this fear of death originate?  Is it innate?  Are we born with it or is it learned?  I know that, psychologically, we tend to fear that which we don't know or which we can't explain and so it follows that we would naturally fear death being that we don't know for sure what happens to us after we die.

Granted, we do have glimpses from those who have reported what they experienced after being declared clinically dead but how do we know for sure that near-death experiences are really true?  The answer is that we don't truly know.  Even among those who believe in heaven and eternal life, there are many who are extremely frightened about the thought of their own death.

Personally, I can appreciate that most people likely push thoughts of death to the back of their mind.  Human nature being what it is, I am convinced that our fear of death is responsible in large part for our avoidance of the subject.  Also, this taboo about discussing death has therefore served to transform a very natural part of the life cycle into a morbid and therefore unpopular subject for conversation. 

However, the fear of facing our own mortality is not uncommon and I believe that this fear is what makes death such a frightening individual experience when, in truth, if the many accounts of near-death experiences are indeed true, then it is apparently a peaceful and joyful transition into a new life or, rather, into the real life. 

So that gets me to thinking.  How about if what we think of as life and death might actually be completely the opposite of what we define them to be?  What if death of the physical body is really the beginning of our birth into another life and that what we believe to be life (as we know it within a body) is actually a death of sorts? 

After all, upon birth most infants emerge from the warmth and nourishing comfort of the womb into a shocking transition of new physical sensations which literally assault it with its first breath in the form of bright lights, loud sounds, and cold.  And far from becoming more physically perfect with age, the human body peaks relatively young and then begins a long descent into slow decay which ends when the body can no longer function at all.  Could it be that our existence within a physical body is a death (albeit temporary) of our true selves?

If we accept the premise that each of us is a spiritual being, then it stands to reason that our experience as physical beings, where we are literally imprisoned within a body, is not really life but is instead death in the sense of the limitations imposed by a body that is subject to gravity, illness, and pain. 

I don't pretend to have any answers but I can't help but wonder about it all.  If living in a body is death, then does that mean that death comes before life instead of the other way around?  Or is our existence just a cycle of life, followed by death, followed by life, etc.? 

Whatever the case, I do know one thing for certain.  When I perceive myself as being in a death phase of existence, then I have a completely different perspective on things.  It forces me to examine everything from an uncommon view and in the process it brings me a greater appreciation for the end because I can't help but believe that the end here is simply the beginning of something better somewhere else.