Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Art of Dying

Paul McCartney is my favourite Beatle, but when it comes to my more existential side, it's George Harrison to whom I usually turn. One of my favourite Harrison songs is "The Art of Dying".

I've always had a fascination with death, and what may or may not come afterwards. I think we all do, even if we won't admit it. The central question of human existence, after all, is whether this life is "it", and what that means for us one way or another. For the longest time, the idea that death might really be the end frightened me, but then one day my father said something to me, with his usual blunt common sense, that started me on the path of being free from that fear.

"Paul" he said, "it's nothing to worry about, because if there's nothing after this, then you'll never know, will you?"

Without knowing it, my Dad had gone all zen with me at that moment, and it resonated in a way that no sermon about the certainty of a life eternal ever could. The truth is that we don't know, and we can never know, until we get "there". And then, if there is something else, we'll know, and if there isn't... well, we'll still never know. So why be afraid?

Being freed from the fear of death opened the door to an actual consideration of what might lie beyond. I accept that oblivion is certainly a possible outcome, and that's a sobering thought (particularly when the left arm starts to tingle). But I also think that there might be other outcomes. As there's nothing I can do about the prospect of oblivion other than to try to live my life to the fullest, which I do anyway, it's those other possibilities that interest me, and that I explore, because perhaps there are clues in our lives, and the world around us, that might just indicate that there is indeed, as the pop poet Bryan Ferry famously wrote, "more than this".

"It is not more surprising to be born twice than once." - Voltaire
The truth is that we're all dying, each and every day. What lies beyond is unknowable... but it is not unimaginable, and that is a critical difference, because in the imagination lies the true "art of dying"... and the art of living.

Indeed, the two might just be the same thing.

Paul Kimball


Anonymous said...

Great post - I have always had similar fears, nearly to the point of obsession until the day I died, and was revived. No bright light, no fire, there was nothing. Had I not known I died, I would have just thought I was sleeping. Thing is, I was really hoping to get some answers at that place and time.... KMM

Paul Kimball said...

Unlike most Star Trek fans, who hated the way that they killed Kirk, I always liked it - not a grand battle for the Federation's survival, but just a guy doing the right thing in an out of the way corner of the galaxy that no-one really cared about. And then, the best part, was his reaction once he knew he was going to die. He said, "it's been fun", and then his eyes widened, and he simply whispered... "oh my". The final frontier.

Jeff Sullivan said...

Not the Highway of Life, but the Runway of Life, as author Peter Legge says.

How much runway does each of us have remaining?

I remember Mr. Wilfred MacLean writing on the board in 12th grade English class, "Living is dying." And then adding, as only he could, "Think about it and it makes perfect sense."