“What is more, you may reflect on this thought: No one dies except on his own day. You are throwing away none of your own time; for what you leave behind does not belong to you. Farewell.” Seneca Book II, #49.
“Nor am I so mad as to crave illness; but if I must suffer illness, I shall desire that I may do nothing which shows lack of restraint, and nothing that is unmanly. The conclusion is, not that hardships are desirable, but that virtue is desirable, which enables us patiently to endure hardships.” –Seneca’s letters to Lucillius LXVII (47)
This line goes straight to what is thought of as “stoic” in the neo-modern interpretation, no? Continue reading
Taking a little detour here from “we.” Going back to a “me” topic. Well, maybe there is some “we” as well. In any case…
Sometimes I wonder how I would prefer to meet my own death. I don’t mean method of death. Movie series like Final Destination or Saw, and countless others seem to gruesomely explore these possibilities. It’s human nature to wonder about how we will die, that is what makes such movies alluring, but that is not I am talking about today. What I am talking about is the “when.” What I mean is I sometimes wonder how much time I would have from my knowing that I was dying to when I actually kicked the bucket. If I go in a flash, I won’t be pondering my demise with acute urgency. If I take years, indeed I would feel the pressure to tie up any loose ends. It really doesn’t matter at this point, because I have no knowledge or control of how the end will come. At this point, nobody has informed me that I have a terminal illness, or asked me to perform a life or death mission. At this point, my death is completely in the hands of fate, and completely out of my control…completely unknown to me. As far as I know, it is not imminent…although, I could be hit by a bus tomorrow.
It seems that when it comes to my eventual death, there are two main issues I think I should focus on:
- Being Ready
- Loose Ends
Being Ready (Preparing for Death)
Shouldn’t I always be ready? Isn’t that one of the essential tenets of living the philosophical life? Shouldn’t I always be ready for my death? What is the difference if a doctor tells me I have 2 months to live or not? Aren’t I dying already? I am in the process of death right now: my hair is graying, my stamina in just about everything is less than when I was 18, I can’t eat spicy food any more, I am unable to even tolerate eating ice cream (which I still love). In short, these are all signs of my slow and eventual demise. Nature is already telling me, “you are going to die.” The only difference from that dreaded doctor news is the time span and the assumed authority (we tend to believe doctors when they tell us we aren’t going to make it, even though many defy the odds).
So, isn’t my goal to mentally be that doctor? To stare myself down and say, “you only have about 40 more years to live, maybe less…maybe a LOT less. It could be days, we just aren’t sure. I’ve got to be upfront with you, there is a slight possibility that you might not make it through the day.” It’s the truth, isn’t it? Well, if I can admit that is the case, then shouldn’t I be ready. Shouldn’t I always be aware that every moment is precious? Absolutely!
Do I really need time to tie up loose ends? When would be a good time to die? Before my wife? After? After my kids are grown? After they are married? After grandchildren? Great-grandchildren? Certainly, after I purchase life insurance. So many loose ends, and no way to tie them all up before I go, no matter how long I have. And there is the heart of the matter…I cannot possibly tie up all the loose ends before I die. Remember, that your life is on loan to you for the time that is allotted. You can try and try, but there will always be more you may wish to have experienced. For some, this life may be like that trip to Disney World, that they never want to end…but it must end, even though you wished you could have spent more time at the Magic Kingdom.
No matter how together you are. No matter how prepared you are for your own death, there will always be things that are undone. There will be loose ends. In my case, I think my goal is to make that clear to those who might miss me. First, I suppose is to ensure that they will miss me, by my action and character. After that, I must remind them (albeit gently) that life will go on when I am gone. Hopefully, some people will miss me, but most likely they will go on, maybe occasionally touched by the sadness of my departure, but mostly unaffected in their outlook on life despite my permanent absence. This is my hope anyway, and I think for the most part, it is true.
There are two main points about loose ends. First, that you will likely depart before you and others desire. More importantly though, eventually most (perhaps all) will go on quite peacefully without you. So, there will be loose ends, but I think most of them will be centered around your own desires to want a little more “magic.” Most of those loose ends can be tied by someone else who remains. Eventually, people will go to Disney without you.
This is how I should face my end: Always ready, aware that there will be loose ends when I go, and that those loose ends will eventually be tied.