Do you? When it will come, how it will be like, whether you will suffer much? Or have you relegated it to a dark and forgotten corner of your mind, turning it into a vague possibility, something that is bound to occur sometime in the future but which until then should be of no concern to you?
We have a tendency to avoiding thinking about death. Like most people, I’d rather not think about it, preferring instead to occupy my thoughts with more enjoyable matters. Lately, however, since my health alerts – I’m well now, don’t worry, thanks for asking – I have thought more than usual about death.
You know, death can happen at any moment. It can be me, it can be you, it can be someone near us. If it’s not some terminal disease, it may well be a little snapping in the head, a little a stroke, or a car accident, or some act of terrorism, or something heavy that just happens to detach itself from the old building we are walking by and land upon our head.
All of us are afraid of pain and, since death usually entails some pain (unless we’re really lucky and suffer some orgasmic heart-attack, preferably while we are in bed making love – it happens to some lucky few) we cannot help but fear death, which is why we’d rather not mention it. Well, the good news is that we have painkillers these days, or suicide bags, depending on which you prefer.
Other than the pain, though, I wouldn’t worry too much about death. And if pain is such a big concern for you, I recommend you read Haruki Murakami’s account of the skinning alive of a Japanese soldier by Mongols in the Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and I promise you that all other death pains will seem somehow tolerable.
Now it would be a good moment for me to launch into a soothing existential description of the Buddhist understanding of death, but to tell you the truth, I think Mark Twain puts it even better:
“I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.”
Well then, if only fear of pain, not death itself, is to be feared, should we concern ourselves with death at all? Should we give it a thought or two every day? Or will that only indispose us?
For my part, I try to think about death now and then, not as a game over sort of thing, nor as a great liberation, but as a reminder of the impermanence of things. I find that thinking about it every day – not dwelling upon it, but merely reminding myself that it will come – helps me worry less about the uncertain future and, more importantly, by reminding me that nothing lasts forever, helps me stop taking things for granted (my relative good health, the people around me, my comfortable life, books, food, apples, milk, the sunlight, everything else really) and enjoy life as best I can.