Reflections on Death
There is a taboo in western culture about death. What happens after is a big unknown, and it could happen at any time. When it comes time to “knock on heavens door” people often come to terms with death by reflect on their lives and how they made it worthwhile. For most it can be something along the lines of “I raised some good kids”, “I helped people”, “I created something”. Almost all of them involve others, as if they see themselves living on in the echoes of their deeds.
This video shows many peoples aspirations on what they want to do before they die, you’ll notice most involve relationships in one form or another with others.
All of this points to the idea that we live on through our contribution to the “human experience”. That all of humanity is deeply connected and we are part of something larger than ourselves. It’s kind of a nice thought, and comforting as we confront the idea that death is guaranteed.
A new kind of death
“I mean, they say you die twice. One time when you stop breathing and a second time, a bit later on, when somebody says your name for the last time.” –Banksy
I would like to critique banksy’s idea of dieing twice. I think it’s a little self centered that the second death comes from when someone says your name for the last time. It is impossible to fully fathom how are actions play a part in the grand scheme. You could inadvertently plant a literal seed that grows a tree that in a hundred years after your name fades from memory provides a fruit for someone. The possibilities are endless.
Let’s have a thought experiment: You are the last human, for dramatic effect it’s winter in the ruins of new york city, and you have a month or two to explore the city, the libraries, the music stores, the great buildings, mountains of wealth, thousands and thousands of years of culture, of knowledge, of science, of thought, of humanity, have led to you… Fate is kind or cruel enough to allow you a peaceful time to reflect on all of this before you yourself go to die, and that’s it… there’s nobody left for the great novels to inspire, there’s nobody left harness the carefully crafted formulas of science. The books become heaps of paper and ink, paintings become canvas with globs of colors, and great buildings and machines will only be heaps of metal and stone.
The second death would come when there are no more humans to contribute to the experience.
it’s gonna get a little heavy here, bear with me.
This seems a little obscure at first like something out of a bad zombie or disaster movie. But history provides a powerful context for this. Imagine now how a native American would have felt after being moved to a reservation, and their lands taken, their great stories not remembered by anyone around them. Or imagine being in a concentration camp, everyone with your culture and religion has as far as you know been rounded up into one of these camps and is being killed off. These are truly great tragedies in history. But I submit that the extinction of all of humanity would be a deeper tragedy still.
For better or worse, most religions around the world have insulated us from this idea, whether we think we’ll go to heaven, be reincarnated, or appear in some other plane of existence. We rarely see the mortality of humanity as a whole, I think it is something worth considering.
Ok, I’m bummed already… So now what?
Perhaps this the end of humanity like the end of our individual lives is inevitable, but this new death provides unique clarity and frame for our existence and how we can fit into the big picture. You have to decide if the game of keeping yourself around, and keeping humanity around for a long time is worth seeing through. Though I don’t believe that we are anything special in terms of the universe, I don’t think the universe “cares” if we are here or not. But I do like us bring here, and I am honored to be a product of thousands of years of humanity now past, and I hope I am building a better humanity for the future. It’s worth trying to make a contribution that will have a positive effect and make “the human experience” something that can be and deserves to be around for a very long time in the future. You can do that by discovering yourself, following your passion, being honest and genuine with yourself and others, make your life count, if not just for you, then everyone that has come before you and everyone that will come after. Loving yourself and loving others is the best you can do.
This is a good video of remembering what experiences shaped the world you live in today.