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A Death Wish

For the SMART Loraine


"So death, the most terrifying of ills, is nothing to us, since so long as we exist, death is not with us; but when death comes, then we do not exist. It does not concern either the living or the dead, since for the former it is not, and the latter are no more."

Epicurus, "Letter to Menoeceus"


"Philosophy is learning how to die."

Plato, Phaedo



We imagine not so much what happens to us when we die but what happens to those we leave and love when we do say the last goodbye.

That was the matter that was thought of last night over the quattro formaggio pizza and cold drinks: what happens to the ones 'left behind' when one dies? More interestingly and with much accuracy, the question was a question between two questions: 'Who shall go to one's wake?' or 'Who shall cry?'

The interesting (because unanimous) decision made upon the matter was that the former question was of utmost importance to men while for the ladies the latter was the question to be asked:

A Man's Death Question: Who will bother to come to the funeral parlor?
A Woman's Death Question: Who will shed tears for me?

The men argued that those who would go to the wake already 'found the time' and 'made arrangements' in between work and play to just pay a visit to a place which places one in a 'morbid' (because hyperreal) predicament. The women take it a plane higher: they said that mere propriety commands the presence of family and friends and that (more importantly) emotion and its manifestation, e.g., tears, would be the real sign of love and grief.

To make a hasty generalization of the difference: women cry while men show up, eat biscuits, smoke outside and then hurry to go to the bar or the friend's house to play poker (Tolstoy).

But we digress. Amidst and underlying the difference between his and her last will and question is the undeniable death wish to at least be thought of and mourned for at the most. In other words, if the workaday world consigns one to show appreciation and gratitude by attending birthday parties or sending the occasional birthday card (gone are the days of yore when sending a palanca was 'normal' or even necessary), one wishes perhaps that before one's cold corpse is six feet under or one's ashes are scattered permanently over a mountain or dissolved by saltwater -- yet wouldn't this be a re-simulation of our already scattered lives (Kant with thanks to Smart Loraine) -- that one is loved and that hopefully the Other would be able to show it in one way or another. Even if it comes (and it will always come) too late.

Yet again, the real 'meta-problematic' of death (Marcel) is not so much 'who shall show up' or 'who shall cry' when one dies but the 'when' of one's imminent death ('namiminto' o nasa bungad lagi't lagi ng isang pinto na pilit nating isinasara sa pamamagitan ng paglimot nito as Heidegger, of course in German, says in Being and Time). The only problem (where to problematize is to find an answer) in life as in love is the question of when should this all end, that is, when shall I -- or will I ever get the chance to -- say goodbye? Caught between the pleasant hello and the decisive goodbye, what must I (the one who will die alone) and you (the one I shall take leave of) do? If at all, can any 'thing' be done?

The interesting criterion that was used to narrow last night's question (to recall, who will mourn for me when I am gone) was that my death be a sudden death (the car crash, the heart attack, or the murder) so that death's arrival may perhaps be more dramatic and less pre-pared for. Yet is there such an ending that is never as sudden as the end of one's life? Is there nothing more dramatic than the total absence of a person with only a corpse for a trace and a momentary memento of the closed eyes of the departed's face? Can any one really prepare for what comes 'like a thief in the night?' (with thanks to the Teacher). How to answer?

Perhaps the "the bravest and also the wisest and the most just" of all thinkers may help (Plato, Phaedo 118a). In the Phaedo, Plato narrates how Socrates answers the 'silly' question raised by the practical Crito -- "But how shall we bury you?" -- before the former nonchalantly self-administered the sentence bestowed upon him by his beloved Athens. He says with the sarcasm always heard from those who bravely stare death at its face and moments before drinking the lethal hemlock:
'Any way you like.' replied Socrates, 'that is, if you can catch me and I don't slip through your fingers.' He laughed gently as he spoke, and turning to us went on: 'I can't persuade Crito that I am this Socrates here who is talking to you now and marshalling all the arguments; he thinks that I am the corpse whom he will see presently lying dead; and he asks how he is to bury me! (Phaedo, 115c-d)
We can never know when the 'final visitor' shall arrive as we can never be prepared enough before it knocks on our door. Yet we can always try to 'maximize' (as to make of efficient use of) this life as long as the poison is not given (always given by an Other) for us to drink (always received by me). And in between birth and death is this momentary Gift of life. So stop asking silly questions (Crito) and start or prepare answering the essential ones (Socrates).

Is this not what the Great Inquisitor meant when he said that to philosophize is to learn (as to practice so as to 'know') how to die, that is and by the same token, to think is to learn how to live? This life: here and now.

And for the those who would be left behind: there is really no need to bother coming to the wake, more so is there any need to cry. As my mother always says, "Don't send me flowers when I've said my final goodbye."





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