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My Death

Men die; and they are unhappy.
CAMUS



I will die.

These three words are the only words which tell me the truth: "I"--and no one else--"will"--absolutely because inevitably--"die"--and end my life.

All other statements about myself, e.g., I am a man, right-handed, a doctor, a lover, a believer, they all reek with contingency, and thus, arbitrariness--it is but it could not have been. These are only facts; they just happen to be so but I could have been born a woman, can train my left hand to write, be a lawyer instead, end all love, fail to believe, etc. These are "information" we put on forms--supposed to be "data" of our lives. Yet there is no space or a blank line for the only truth we all share. A blank: it asks for an answer as there must be an answer--but precisely it is still a valid question when I will die. A valid question because it will happen necessarily. But I leave the line blank for now.

But that I, and I alone, will die: this is the only truth that I not only know but that which I most truly possess. It alone is mine. To first acknowledge it as my ownmost comes before understanding it. All my other "possessions," e.g., property, relationships, knowledge, etc., can be taken away from me. I know what it feels to be bankrupt-- a rupture which tears away from me all that I thought was mine. But precisely: what I can own--purchase or receive--inevitably can be taken away from me, stolen, broken, lost, forgotten, etc. "You cannot take your riches to the grave"--we've heard this many times. We've heard it many times because it is true. See the grand but empty mansion of the departed millionaire. Or the broken heart of the widow. A thousand books that the collector will never be able to read. No more than I own such things, I never did even borrow them (who lent it to me?). I just stayed around with them--for a while.

I said acknowledgment of death as my ownmost leads to understanding it. I can only understand what is mine, what I experience to be mine. I experience the warmth of the endless sun and understand what summer days are. I experience the gaping wound on my suddenly reborn flesh and I understand what pain is. I experience the happiness that an Other can only give and understand--even confusedly--what love is (or could be). I have ideas of such things because I experience them--"there is nothing in the intellect which did not first pass through the senses." But of this death I call mine--what experience do I have of it in order to say that I understand it?

To be sure, "death" is any other old word we bandy around and even joke about. We see it in the papers ("Thousands die in an earthquake in..."), in the pictures (where everyone but the hero dies), in funeral marches, in cemeteries, etc. This is it: we see it, hear about it, are even afraid of it. But this name in the obituary or that corpse in the hearse is not mine. I strictly do not experience them as an experience of myself; I just learn about them--without understanding them. And even when death appears to have become most real to me than any other experience I have--when the one that I love is dead--I still do not experience his death as mine. Cry as I might, it is not me who died. It is him who is now a silent corpse.

This is the truth of grief: I want to bear the death of my beloved but I cannot; I wish to help him but this is something I already have no hand in; this is already his and no longer mine. I do not grieve for "my loss"--this is selfishness. I grieve because I cannot die in his place to save him.

He dies. And I live. They all die. (Man is mortal.)

But so long as it is them who die, I shall have no experience of my death as mine because of the stupid fact that I continue to live. And if I have no experience of my death, how then am I to understand it? I simply cannot. And if I cannot understand it due my my lack of experience of it, can I become indifferent to it? Perhaps: "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." Brave Epicurus, lover of the simple life, simply denied death and took away all that was mysterious--thus frightening--about it. He had a point.

But how can I not be concerned with this truth which I and I alone possess and will inevitably experience? If this is the only truth I know--be it a truth (yet) without understanding--and the only truth I possess as mine, how can I grow indifferent to it? To be sure, I can. I can dismiss death as something "morbid" and avoid any discussion about it. I can explain to my grieving friend that his father died because "it was his time" or--absolutely lacking all sensitivity--"his number was up." I can accumulate as much as I can without writing a "will." I can love as if my lover will not die, or more importantly, as if I will not die. I can deny death's truth, be indifferent to it; but in doing so I also become indifferent to the truth of my one and only life--that it will end. To be indifferent to death is easily done. We all do this all the time.

There is truth to the saying that we are afraid of what we do not understand. And death is the final--because terminal--mis-understanding, missing what it is and missing it's reason--"it's too early to tell." Now I see that I do not understand the only truth I possess. This absurdity cannot be evaded or denied. It is the final surd: to become "silent," "deaf" and "speechless" (L. surdus). "The paths to glory lead but the the grave" (Thomas Gray). The silence of my grave: that to which I march without knowing why.

My death: my ownmost truth that I will never understand.

To designate it as "the characterized possibility of the impossibility of existence" (Heidegger) is to play word games with the only game where my life is at stake. It is true that I can come to an "authentic resolve" to live out my ownmost possibilities upon the acceptance of my only and final possibility; but I easily forget this while "I wait"--man is the most impatient and forgetful animal.

There is no consolation for my death--neither for those who suffer it for me or more so for myself when I am dead. The irrevocable silence of the final and last desolation: my death.



Comments

  1. made me see death in a different light. hmmm...

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