Friday, May 6, 2011

Death and Dying

One of the most difficult things about living life without a religious framework is getting my head around not living. I've always been aware that death comes to all things, but when a person is deeply entrenched in the Christian faith, death is always a semicolon; something always comes after it (i.e., heaven). But now that "after" has fallen away along with the rest of my religious worldview, I wonder how to think about death.

On the one hand, I see death as a sort of liberation, a freedom from the pains, anxieties, and hardships of life. I think of so many who suffer their entire lives from innumerable wrongs, injustices, and suffering, and I see a hope in death for them. No longer will they be confined to this life and its evils. Even for folks who live a relatively comfortable life, like me, the end of life is a positive event, a point at which all worries and pains wash away.

Yet that doesn't entirely mute the sadness of death.
That something—namely, life—comes to an end, and that's all there is to say, this is a troubling thought. It colors the entirety of life with a tinge of tragedy; in death, any thought of a "happy ending" seems inappropriate and wrong. There is no more to be said about a person; there is no more to tell. There is no growth in knowledge, in truth, in love, in anything. To me, this is infinitely sad.

Let me make a brief excursus here: I'm very much looking forward to the final film in the Harry Potter series, just as I greatly anticipated the release of the final book. But I really don't want it to end, I want J.K. Rowling to publish something else, to write more about Harry's life, to give continuing life to the world she's created. This is a very selfish desire, honestly; I want to continue being caught up in the world of Harry Potter, and to get to know this fascinating character more fully. (Who knows, maybe even a bit of his heroism will rub off on me?) Nevertheless, I sincerely hope that Rowling doesn't write another word about Harry Potter, at least not as a storyteller. The story has come to a fitting end, and while the end is sad, the story needs no further telling. To try to resurrect the story and continue telling it would be to cheapen the way so many readers and movie-watchers had to come to grips with the end of the story. The end of the series is good, though it pains us to come to that end at last.

That all was a very long way of saying: while I used to not be worried about death (in any appreciable sense), now I'm much more ambivalent. It is good and bad, freeing and sorrowful, hopeful (in its own way) and terrifying. Yet without a notion of God shielding me from death, I feel a greater sense of liberation. There is even a growing sense in me that I may, someday, greet death as an old friend, terrifying as death may be.

P.S.—I think part of the reason I find myself thinking about death is that my leaving the church feels very much like dying. A large part of my past, and in reality my future, was put to death when I decided to walk away. Yet I see in this the possibility for new life, growing up in the ashes of the past that litters the ground. (Sorry if that sounds cheesy, but it expresses well what I feel.) Death has given birth to life.

No comments: