~ Rarely a week goes by that I don’t think about death. That might seem like an odd thing to be running around in my mind, but because I interact with so many clients each week, and because so many different people might end up sitting down at my coffee table, it is rare that a week goes by that someone doesn’t tell me about a death in their family or circle of friends.
Some of the people I looked up to the most in life are dead. Two uncles in particular went out of their way to spend time with me when I was a young boy, and they forever left a positive imprint on my life.
Western Culture tends to dismiss the subject of death. We hide it away in the white sterile rooms of hospitals. We use hushed language and change the words we use to talk about it in personal terms; “We lost Bob”, “Janet is no longer with us” , “David passed away” , as though to say the word “dead” or “death” outright would be too abrupt and hostile toward our emotions.
In the past, cultures did not celebrate birthdays, but rather they celebrated death days. Death was something to embrace; it was the culmination of moving from this life into the next. Remembering someone’s death was the highest honor those left on the earth could do to pay homage to the person who died.
Modern society abhors death. Birthdays have become the norm when it comes to celebratory fanfare, as though there is something more special about the moment you entered the earth, than celebrating your entire life’s achievement upon your death.
Of course, when it comes to celebrities, remembering them after death is perfectly acceptable in our society. We throw tribute concerts, hold memorials, and have all sorts of parties for dead presidents, musicians, and actors.
But when it comes to the nebbishes, that is all of the non-celebrities, holding yearly memorials for our dead uncles, aunts, grandparents, parents, and friends seems too morbid for the commoners to do…..”no that is not something you do for normal people, it is only reserved for famous people” is what we are told.
I beg to differ.
I don’t care for birthdays at all, and I’m not fond of gift giving. We who live in the Western World have an overabundance of material things….we simply don’t need more people to spend more money on us just because the particular day of the year happens to fall on the moment we came out of our mother’s womb.
Remembering our ancestors however connects us to the past. Remembering the people who came before us reminds us that we have a history, that we exist for a reason, and that we are the image bearers of those people who walked on this earth once before.
Western society is very fragmented and disconnected. People tend to feel lost and hopeless. Depression, loneliness, anxiety, and an overall sense of hopelessness are the great plagues of our time.
“But Kenneth, thinking about death is morbid” some say,
So do you believe all the humans who lived before us were overly morbid?
Honestly, I’m not a big fan of this existential philosophy which permeates so much of Western Culture in which people only live in the here-and-now, giving little thought or attention to where they came from, why they exist, and where they are going in life.
Many of the problems we face in Western society can be traced to the way young adults have become entirely disconnected from the past. They live as though all there ever was is the here-and-now, they have little context for why they believe what they believe. Young adults tend to think all that matters is what they believe now and what they are being taught in college now.
The truth of the matter is that humanity has a history, and unless we embrace death and the reality that the here-and-now is only temporal, then we are nothing more than amnesia patients running around without any notion of who we are and where we are going. Young adults are like Jason Bourne; they don’t know who they are and they don’t know why they have the ability to wreak havoc everywhere they go.
I am going to die.
There is no way around it. My father died of cancer. My grandmother died of cancer. Two of my uncles died of cancer.
Death awaits me. It is a constant reminder that my days on this earth are numbered.
We each have a choice. We can live each day as though we will never die, living in a pretend world where nothing ever changes and our bodies never decay.
Or we can face reality. We can embrace the truth that all humans who walked this earth have always faced; that death comes to all.
There is nothing morbid about realizing we will die. In fact, acknowledging death is perhaps the only way to begin healing the fractures and fissures of modern society. A people who do not believe in death, do not take seriously the consequences of their actions.
Of course, I am merely one voice crying in the wind……and I doubt many people will care for what I have to say. After all, telling people that they are going to die doesn’t make you very popular in the Internet world.
Just a few thoughts as I sipped my coffee,
Categories: Culture & Society