most of us don't like to think about death, in particular our own death. we all know to one degree or another that we will die, but most of us try very hard not to think about it at all if possible. when i was younger i knew that one day i would die, but it was very abstract and something i thought was years away from my personal reality. that is a common enough stance for young adults. as we get older and more people we know and love pass from this world the reality of our mortality tends to solidify. yet it is common enough even then to avoid facing the fact of our individual mortality. that's why people put off making a will or talking with loved ones about things like life support decisions and organ donation.
this is largely due to our fear of death. we live in a culture that makes death the great enemy. something to be resisted at all cost. on one hand this makes sense. life is great, our bodies are amazing, the earth is a wonder, and we want to be with the ones we love. yet while all this is true, it is also true that our time under the sun is short, and death is the natural end for all physical life. understandably we may not like that fact, and naturally we resist it, but regardless of how healthy our diet, or how much we exercise, or how advanced medical science becomes - death will always be with us, it simply is the nature of things. (i am speaking of natural death and not death by an act of violence, which is a topic for another reflection.)
while it is understandable and common to fear death, or at least not want to think about it, there is wisdom in being aware of its reality. i am not talking about a morbid obsession with death, which is as bad as an obsession with avoiding death, but a healthy awareness of our personal mortality. being mindful of our mortality helps us accept that we have real limitations. it keeps in check delusions as to our power. the "if you think it you will be it" school of thought and the "power of positive thinking" school are not the absolutes we often delude ourselves into believing. our lives and our wills have limits. a healthy awareness of that fact should help us in making choices about what is really important to us and what we really want to do in our life.
a healthy awareness of death also serves to remind us of the importance of the relationships we hold with others. there is an old adage that says "don't let the sun go down on your anger". anger, however much justified (at least in our own mind), separates us from others. if i get angry with someone i care about and let it fester i will grow a huge resentment that can construct a rigid wall between the two of us. anger that is unresolved can sour our relationships and even our personality. if we let the sun go down on our anger, meaning not addressing it as soon as possible, we may lose the chance to resolve it to death and a hole of regret and remorse may become permanent in our heart. prayer and therapy may help us accept the hole but they can not completely heal it. we didn't create the anger on our own and we can't resolve/heal it on our own, those involved in the rift need to come together for resolution to be possible.
we may become angry with death whom we perceive as having "robbed" us of the chance for that healing resolution. but that is misplaced blame. in choosing to let the sun go down on our anger we "robbed" ourselves of the chance for wholeness. today is the day of resolution, not tomorrow which may never come. today is our chance for wholeness. today is the time of decision. this is the wisdom that a healthy awareness of our mortality brings. death need not be our enemy but a friend who reminds us that nothing on earth is forever, and what is truly important is the love we share. the time to engage love is always now.
© 2010 halley low