Monday, January 21, 2013

A question, and a couple of answers

"Without positing an afterlife or condoning suicide, is it possible to reframe Death as a positive? As something not only defanged and not-to-be-feared, but truly celebratory?"

I think that the end of A life, with rare exceptions, is always a loss.¹ It is a loss of a necessary condition for a lot of what we think of as good. Furthermore the loss of a loved one is always a sadness, even when it is temporary. I don't see a way around being bummed out that someone is gone if having them around was good. But that isn't the full story. 

Death in general is an unavoidable, inexorable part of the world around us. So much so that to hate death, or malign it at all would be like hating on gravity, or entropy. 
Making virtue out of necessity frequently looks like a cop-out but what else can you do. Death makes life what it is. And if something is cherished then all parts of it must be embraced, because to change one part is to change the whole. So if you celebrate life, you celebrate a thing that ends. That doesn't mean that the end is as good as the other parts. But only that to honestly enjoy life, and call it a good, you must acknowledge that it is a temporary affair. 

That being said I think that a death can be an occasion for celebration. If this life is all we get, and it's value is linked to its limited supply, then death can be seen not as the loss of something good, but as the limitation that makes life valuable. 

I think part of what makes death so tragic in our culture is that by and large death isn't understood as part of life. Even the simple language of life and death has a denial of death in it. "He saved my life!" has buried in it the assumption that now that I am not going to die in that fire I won't die at all. Of course no one really thinks that but wouldn't it more honest to say "He extended my life!' Incorporating death into how we understand our lives would be a step toward reframing death. 

¹An answer I don't think you are looking for: In cases of unmitigated suffering death is a good. This is, however, not an interesting point, nor what I think you are looking for. 

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