The Realisation of Death

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee

Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;

For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow

Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.

Why are we so scared of death? Some of us are pretty blatant and express our fears quite openly, while some of us try to overcome our individual fears whereas others in spite of the dread pretend to act smart. There is also an enlightened lot who are born without the fear since they are much ahead of time and have realised the real essence of life.

When we are young, death seems to be an event of life. Naturally, its impact is not felt much early in life. It’s like a going away with the hope that the person will come back. When we are children, we are such happy beings that the fact that dead people never return, does not make us sad. A friend of mine lost her father when she was six years old. When his body was brought into the house, she told me many years later she didn’t feel anything bad about it. She felt it was a big event where many people visited their house. Her 3-year-old brother was not aware of the event and did not even know someone like father existed so it never made any relevance whether he was dead or alive.

At teenage and early twenties, we are too full of ourselves. So much is happening around us that we are too engrossed in the material pleasures of it all. We are aware that death happens but it is okay if other people are dying. Big deal! We can ponder about it later.

By the time we are in our seventies or eighties, we have seen so many deaths of near and dear ones and are in a way waiting for our own that we are not moved much by the seriousness of it. We are sad, dejected but in a way we have accepted it as an important event in life by then. So death does not move us in a novel way anymore.

The realisation of death is at its peak during early thirties and onwards. This is the phase in life when for most of us life has taken a direction and we are aware of where it is leading us to. Life is never predictable and there are twists and turns at every crossroad. And herein comes the relevance of death. It’s awesome in giving us surprises when we least expect it. The fear develops from this stage and slowly bundles into a ball of irrationality deep within us. For some of us it comes early and for some it’s late. But the realisation of death comes to us at one point or the other.

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What is death? It is one of the most misunderstood subjects in the world and there are a million schools of thought each justifying their respective points of view. Wikipedia says, “Death is the termination of all biological functions that sustain a living organism. Phenomena which commonly bring about death include biological aging, predation, malnutrition, disease, suicide, homicide, starvation, dehydration, and accidents or trauma resulting in terminal injury.” It’s a very easy and commonly reasoned explanation.

Thinkers over the centuries have philosophised, argued, pondered and proposed different theories about death. Nature of death have been explained in countless ways, ranging from total annihilation to life after death and at times paying for one’s sins before reaching paradise. No matter how much ever we discuss about it, death is one subject that unites us all irrespective of our religion, age, gender, race and tribe.

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Humans are completely powerless to win over death in any way. It is that all pervading reality that overcomes all of us no matter how powerful or influential we might be. Our mightiest of efforts to fight over death end in despondency. Whoever lives has to die one day – that’s the fact of life and accepting this very concept can usher in an unmatched happiness.

Apart from being the grandest mystery, death is the greatest leveller. The rich and the poor, the black and the white, the weak and the strong all meet the same fate eventually. We cannot question this fact of life. The old and worn out give place to the new. Birth and death revolve in a cycle. The solemnity of death is soon replaced by the gurgle of a newborn. That’s the essence of living and the easier we accept this, the better it is for us.

Why death intimidates us is maybe it’s unknown, mysterious and hidden beneath a dark shroud.

“To die- to sleep.

To sleep- perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub!

For in that sleep of death what dreams may come

When we have shuffled off this mortal coil, 1760

Must give us pause.”

William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Act 111, Scene 1

Like Hamlet many of us wish to delve into that not-so-trodden terrain, but the thought of what lies ahead makes us stop and ponder over the unknown and uncertain. We are left with no other option but wait, like Vladimir and Estragon do in Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. We have no idea of what we are waiting for, what lies ahead and still we all indulge in that same old act – wait.

Perish we all will and go for that unknown, untold. But till then we do wait. And till then we have to accept this beautiful cycle, which binds and unites us all – death. Everything grows old but death. Whatever goes away comes back. Let’s acknowledge this rhythm and walk the road ahead as long as we have the time in hand. Let cynicism not guide us but hope, that whatever goes away is compensated in one way or the other. That’s the beauty of life and death, and both walk the path of life hand in hand.

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Barry McGovern in “Waiting for Godot” at the Center Theatre Group/Mark Taper Forum, opening March 21 and continuing through April 22, 2012.

 

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