Friday, February 20, 2009

Life and Death

This morning I was thinking about two questions: What is the nature of life, and what is the meaning of death?

This is, in fact, a re-phrasing of questions that have preoccupied me from my youth, namely: What is the meaning of life, and what is the nature of death? But I find that as I get older, my perspective on these questions has changed, so that, in effect, half of them, at least, is reversed. It is not that I phrased them wrongly before, but, rather, that my relation to them has changed over the decades. I used to be concerned with what life means, and what death consists of. On the latter point, I assumed that death had no meaning; indeed, as many thinkers have concluded, that death strips life of meaning. But now I think otherwise.

It seems to me now that life is the result of the intersection of an animating force, which exists outside of time and space, and which produces life and consciousness in organic beings. Now, many thinkers on the subject have concluded that death is inimical to life, and that it represents a portal onto another form of reality, or onto nothing at all. They argue as if death were a doorway that separates two distinct worlds. And many insist that the presence of death in life renders life meaningless. But I no longer feel that this is true.

Instead, I think that death and life overlap; that instead of being separated by the event of dying, they flow into one another like the ocean at the seaside, so that there is no clear distinction between them at the point where they conjoin. This is so because, it seems to me now, that the animating force which gives life to all that lives is, in effect, the same thing as death. In this sense, we all carry death within ourselves; it is in our nature precisely because we are alive. But further, since death and life are essentially the same, one might even say that death gives meaning to life, since it lies at life's essence.

There is, therefore, no fundamental distinction between life and death, only a temporal and corporeal one which disappears through the process or the trauma of dying. We thus return, in death, to that which we were before birth, though I cannot help but feel that the experience of having lived and thought and felt and imagined and suffered and loved and created must have altered that underlying substance in some way. It is for this reason that I suggest that man has a spiritual destiny, and that spirit itself is evolving as a result of the experience of life, especially of conscious life.

One implication of these ideas is that there is no reason either to fear or to welcome death. It is as much a part of us as life is, since death and life are, in essence, the same thing. We live with death, and we die into life. Death, therefore, is not strange or inimical; rather, it is within our very essence. And that essence exists outside of time and space; it is eternal and it is the source of our consciousness, our conscience, and our moral sense. For we ought to live in such a way as to reflect the fact that we are, at heart, transcendent beings, and that our destiny is not confined to this plane of existence, but looks toward that eternal reality in which our deepest humanity is rooted.