“He who fears death will never do anything worth of a man who is alive.” – Seneca
Death is Inevitable
No matter what you do you will die one day, no matter how successful you are, no matter how hard working you are, no matter how good, benevolent, or unbelievably holy you are you’ll eventually have your very own funeral, this is a fact that, aside from people being dumb, looks to be the only true and reliable fact of life so far. It’s a depressing thought, I know, after all how good would life be if you didn’t have the fact of death hanging over you every second of your life right?
Throughout most of human history people have avoided death, and I don’t blame them, death doesn’t really sound all that inviting. And we have taken great strides in avoiding it. Advances in medicines, and technologies have raised our life expectancies to far past where the human body was supposed to be able to support. But even then we will still die. And we are scared of it, we run away from death, we cower behind whatever we have to avoid it. And because of this, especially in our day in age where nihilism has taken hold, death has become something that hangs above all of us, a specter that possesses our minds. But, there is a way to solve this.
The acceptance of death is the only way of getting rid of this specter. The realization that perhaps death is bearable would be the only way to figure out how to live a more fulfilling life without having to fear death. We have to change how we see it not change the “it”
Acceptance of death
Death is unavoidable, so should we really fear something we can do nothing about? Should we try to avoid something that we can’t by nature? The answer is no, you shouldn’t. Avoiding death would be like trying to fly, you just can’t. That may sound depressing but it doesn’t have to be.
Death doesn’t have to be a bad thing, in a weirder way you could think of it as a second puberty, it’s simply a part of life. But maybe you need some convincing. A reason to fear death would be the fear of leaving behind something or someone. Whether it be your twelve year old child, your dreams of becoming successful, or what have you, almost all of us have something that grounds us to life, something that gives us a reason to live. But I have bad news, whatever it is, it will disappear one day. Whatever you accomplish will eventually be forgotten by time, and so will you, your child, your grand child, and so on. Again, very depressing, I know.
However you shouldn’t be saddened by this fact, after all, someone who expects a leaf to grow during winter is an idiot. You might think to yourself ” What?! But my child is not leaf!” Well I have more bad news for you, your child kind of is. Like a leaf everyone will eventually die, the acceptance of this fact is the key to getting rid of the sadness you have to endure in knowing that death hangs above all of us. But it’s easier said than done, thinking that everything will die seems counter-intuitive doesn’t it? But once you understand this fact, I promise you that you will be able to not only not fear leaving behind others, but also be able to appreciate the precious time that you have with the ones and things that you love. This is better than simply trying to push away your grief, this way you end it completely. As Seneca put it:
“It is better to conquer our grief than to deceive it. For if it has withdrawn, being merely beguiled by pleasures and preoccupations, it starts up again and from its very respite gains force to savage us. But the grief that has been conquered by reason is calmed for ever. I am not therefore going to prescribe for you those remedies which I know many people have used, that you divert or cheer yourself by a long or pleasant journey abroad, or spend a lot of time carefully going through your accounts and administering your estate, or constantly be involved in some new activity. All those things help only for a short time; they do not cure grief but hinder it. But I would rather end it than distract it.” — Seneca
Another reason to fear death would be the fear of non existence. This fear is far easier to get rid of than the last one. All those years of non-existence before you were alive seemed fairly okay, so why fear the non-existence after life? Non-existence would be like the perfect sleep, which doesn’t sound all that scary really, to be honest I might need some of that one day.
Meaninglessness of life
Now at this point, if you’re a good thinker a disturbing thought might be creeping into your mind right now, specifically “Why not kill yourself?” If death is inevitable and nothing anyone does matters, then what is the point of being alive anyway? Again, another disturbing thought. It was Albert Camus that said:
“There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy. All the rest — whether or not the world has three dimensions, whether the mind has nine or twelve categories — comes afterwards. These are games; one must first answer.”
Obviously this is a problem that philosophers have grappled with many times throughout the years. Thankfully this means that we have plenty of help when it comes to this philosophical question.
In existentialist philosophy, there is a concept called, essence. This essence is a certain set of properties that are essential for something to be what it is. Fairly self explanatory. The ancient philosophers Plato and Aristotle believed that each of us have an essence that was assigned to us before we were born. Your essence is the thing that gives you purpose, the thing that gives you reason to be alive.
However, in the late eighteen hundreds people begin to question if we truly are imbued with purpose. Famously the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche declared “God is dead”. But this statement has been very misunderstood. In saying that God was dead he was referring to how, after the age of enlightenment, people had begun to not believe in God. Before this time, God was the one that gave purpose to people’s lives, and in God’s death, the purpose of people’s lives becomes blurry. This caused nihilism to arise, a philosophy that embraces to ultimate meaninglessness of life.
But again in mid 20th century the philosophical landscape began to shift because of one Jean-Paul Sartre. Sartre asked the question what if we exist before we are imbued with essence? What if we could find one? And there you go folks, that’s your answer. In a meaningless world the only meaning we can have is the meaning that we create ourselves. A person must choose for themselves what they must choose their own purpose to have meaning. As Albert Camus said:
“The literal meaning of life is whatever you’re doing that prevents you from killing yourself.”-Albert Camus