Musing About Death…

I’ve had this post brewing in the back of my mind since I started listening to Rent (and really, since I saw the movie last fall).

I think my thoughts have solidified enough to write what I’ve been thinking, on and off, over the months.

Warning!!! Serious musings on the value of life, the meaninglessness of death, and other associated issues follow. Some seriously graphic depictions of a chronic illness – of which some of my friends have been diagnosed, are described. Please read at your own risk.

I am 42 years old at the writing of this post. I will be 43 this coming November.

While this may not seem to be a significant birthday to most of you, for me it’s a major milestone.

My mother (born on in 1934, died in 1978), was 43 years old when she finally succumbed to Chronic Progressive (now called Primary Progressive) Multiple Sclerosis.

She was bedridden, unable to do anything for herself, from approximately 1968/69 until her death. Her doctors treated her with cortisone, but it didn’t help and she eventually moved home to be cared for by her parents, including her father (a General Practitioner for his neighborhood).

I was 14.

This is background information, intended to explain why I am suddenly obsessed (I don’t think there’s a better word right now) with listening to the music – and particularly the words – of the soundtrack. It’s not really a music virus. I’m attempting to absorb the incongruity and irony that is Rent. It is a monument to survival in the face of difficult, sometimes horrifying circumstances. And it was written by someone who faced his own final deadline without knowing it.

“No day but today,” indeed.

If one was to investigate why I have taken on so many time-intensive projects, why I have felt the need to commit my self and my time so often and so intensely, one really only has to look at the first three paragraphs, and to listen to the music and the words of Rent to fully understand.

Life is short. It’s an overused cliche and a state of mind all at the same time – a personal philosophy which very often drives my sense of purpose.

It’s impossible to pack everything into a single life. There isn’t enough time in the day, not enough energy in the world. But that simple phrase – no day but today – explains so much about why I find it so utterly offensive that anyone could condone the taking of life (ANY life).

I don’t have answers. I don’t know what to do if someone else takes a life. Is it okay to take that person’s life in exchange? I don’t know. I suppose it’s appropriate to think, in theory, that by taking a life one forfeits the right to keep one’s own, but do any of us have the right to take that life? How can we say that it’s okay to take a life in one case and not okay to take a life in another, depending on circumstances?

Those who speak on behalf of the righteous believe that they have the authority to do as they please, based on their conception of “right” and “law.” I believe there are basic rights and laws that are incontrovertable and not definable by any written work. And yet…

There is the question of abortion. There is the question of capitol punishment. There is the question of justice in the face of an attack on innocent bystanders who happened to get to work too early in the morning and were in the path of incoming airplanes carrying other innocent bystanders. There is the “rescue” of a people oppressed, who then take the opportunity to incite civil war based on religious belief.

How do we reconcile ourselves to allow one of these acts and not another? How can people look at each other and decide, based on belief, that one person should be allowed to live while another should die?

And, in the end, what do we accomplish when we set out to “protect” one life from being taken by another? At what cost?

I’ve been accused of being idealistic. Unrealistic. A pacifist (and that’s apparently an evil thing to some people).

I don’t have answers to these questions, but they are burning me up inside. I am trying to coexist with an increasingly hostile environment. And the only thing that saves me from moving on to something “better” is that I have no clear assurance that there is, in fact, something better. I think there may be something different, but I have no guarantees that this is the case. And I have learned that there is no better purpose to life than to live it here and now.

I can intellectualize life in 40 years. I have extant examples of people who live well into their 90s – even in my own family. But I also have shining examples of extended life gone horribly wrong, too. It shows in the face of my mother-in-law every time we go to visit her in the nursing home. She and my mother (had she lived) would be near the same age. It shows in the vivid descriptions of my friend’s father, who suffers from dementia. It shows in my family history – where we live to old age if we don’t die of cancer, but with dementia, or heart disease, or blindness, or in some other enfeebled state. None of my oldest relatives, save possibly Great Aunt Annie and First Cousin Thrice Removed Harry, maintained useful lives into their 90s.

There is, in fact, no day but today.

So how do I reconcile this knowledge with seeking out life-threatening activities in the name of protection and service? The short answer is, I can’t. I am told that it must be done. Someone has to do it. My response is “why?” All the justification in the world doesn’t seem to make it better, when those who should serve to protect my interests fail to understand what my interests are and how I interpret them.

The Earth is a wonderful land. It truly is. Anyone who has visited the Grand Canyon or the California Redwoods or the wilds of the Adirondack mountains knows what I mean. I can’t speak for other lands – my experience is far too limited, but I can take what I know of North America and extend it globally. And if we don’t start recognizing that what we have is a gift (from God or whatever), and that it and ALL its people with the same respect and reverence, then in the end we will have nothing.

When I see global warming warnings brushed aside in the name of our human importance and our innate right to do as we please, when I hear that we can go to war against a people because we are protecting another people, when I hear that a person may be killed for the $60 someone else thinks is more important than the life of that person, I feel ill.

We will soon be short on doctors. We will lack teachers to teach the people how to save themselves. We will descend into the next Dark Ages as our world heats up. And we will have no one to save when that time comes. It won’t be my children who will see this horrible change, but their children, or their children’s children. A few generations more and the only thing left will be the cockroaches and a few stragglers who will be left to pick up what’s left.

Can we break the cycle? I wish I knew – for the sake of my children. I want them to know a world where everyone is treated the same, regardless of the color of their skin, their religious beliefs, or their last name. I want them to know a dark sky filled with stars. I want them to see a world where people respect each other, help each other. Where one person’s worth is not judged by his bankbook or her DVD collection or the political connections he has.

And for me? I wish I had more time. And if I didn’t that I knew when I was leaving, so that I could plan accordingly.

And that I could do something to make this world better than it is right now.

And that my actions would inspire other people to do the same.

And finally, that nobody would have to experience what I have. But then, I guess people don’t learn unless they have examples, do they?

Leave a Reply