The premature death of one of my former students, reminded me of my own eventual mortality. Death is the most mysterious, certain event (not counting taxes, of course) in everybody’s life, albeit the most undesirable. Just as we utilize every conceivable scheme, legal and sometimes not, to minimize the payment of taxes, we also resort to numerous means, including unconventional ones, to postpone our physical demise. We follow a strict diet programs, exercise on a regular basis, take our daily vitamins and food supplements, avoid risky activities, and try not to miss preventive medical check-ups.
When we get older, we do foolish things to pretend that we are still young, easygoing, and energetic. We dye our thinning hair, dress in colorful clothes, replace our missing teeth with prosthetic devises, drive sports cars, and try to reconstruct the badly depreciated components of our body through plastic surgery. In short, we do everything at our disposal to either hide or to postpone the degrading implications of old age. We may successfully simulate the youthful appearance, but certainly fail to return the youthful vitality to our body.
We are fascinated by the death of others, but not certainly by our own. Understandably, no one dares to contemplate his own demise. We don’t want to face it, to talk about it, or even to think about it. We try to ignore it as if it won’t happen at all. Especially, when we are young, death is not on our mind. It won’t happen to us. We think of our life as a straight line with no end in sight.
This is not, of course, something new. We, as human beings, have always tried diligently to discover new sources of longevity and to unlock the mystery of everlasting life. Particularly in the United States, people hate aging and the resulting physical deterioration. We spend several billion dollars every year on genetic research and expensive experiments hoping to prolong our life span for even a short period of time. Such efforts have been, to some extent, successful.
Today, the average life expectancy has improved considerably, especially in advanced countries like the United for which the average life expectancy is approaching 80 years. This is almost twice of what it was in the Middle Ages. It is worth mentioning that a great deal of this progress has happened during the last few decades.
The rising average life expectancy, however, has not changed the way we think about death. Our fear and passive resistance to death have not diminished. In other words, longer life has not made death any less sufferable for us because the tragic end of our life is just as dreadful at any age.
Death is also as close to us at the age of 30 as it is at the age of 80. In some sense, a life of 80 years seems as short as the life of 30 or 40. Perhaps, our perception of time will change after a certain age. I remember when I was a kid, one hour waiting felt like a whole day. Now, at middle age, one-week waiting feels like a day. It seems that time passes more quickly as we get older.
Likewise, I don’t believe that there is a correlation between the length of our life and the quality of living. In other words, a happy life does not depend on how long we live. According to the available evidence, people in the Middle Ages who lived much shorter than we do definitely were less fearful of death than we are today. And, I can say confidently, that they lived a happier and a less stressful life mainly because they were more spiritual; moderate, closer to the nature and to God, and maintained stronger moral values.
Death to those who believe in God and in the judgment day will not happen. It is only a transition from this world to a better one. According to a report by the Wall Street Journal, nearly 70% of people who live in the United States suffer from some kind of psychological disorders caused by fear, anxiety, and stress created by material life. (The rest of us have to wait until our psychological problems will eventually be discovered) Death is frightening to those who are devoted to the hedonistic culture whose main purpose is accumulating wealth and power. The material life will be devastated as a result of death.
Can we learn anything from giving thoughtful consideration to our own death? I believe we can. Such consideration, at the very least, generates some serious questions to which we need to pay more attention. Should we change our conduct knowing that we have no control over our own inevitable demise? Should we modify our greed-dominated life because it is destined for a disastrous fate, and be more compassionate toward other people? Should we re-examine our goals and priorities? Should we ask ourselves what is the best use of our precious time given that life is too short? I believe we should.