In the not so distant past our culture had a place for death. It was even there in nursery rimes. “Atishoo, atishoo we all fall down” came from the plague. It reminded us that death is a reality we do not yet have dominion over. But we had forgotten. Until now.
By David Malone and cross-posted from his blog, Golem XIV
For a great many of us in the industrialised countries, especially the relatively affluent and comfortable middle class, death and our mortality are something we have pushed to the margins of our lives. We are not used to the idea that death could come and get us.
For many of us death is something we think we risk only if we bring it upon ourselves. Death has to be invited by doing something stupid, like driving drunk. Otherwise it is something we only come face to face with in the last few months of our own life and the lives of those we are close to.
Illness has, for most of us, for most of our lives, been separated from death. Illness is an inconvenience to be ‘treated’ rather than a frightening herald of death itself. We have grown flippant about death. We like to laugh at it. Death in ‘The Seventh Seal’ was solemn and commanding. Bill and Ted reduced death to a clown.
In place of death we talk now of immunity thinking that we all can and should be.
But all this is very recent.
In the not so distant past our culture had a place for death. Death appeared in plays and stories. Death walked onto the stage. It spoke and we listened and thought. Death had a presence in our culture that allowed us to think about mortality and the value of life.
Death was even there in nursery rimes, because children had to mourn dying parents and parents mourn dying children. “Atishoo, atishoo we all fall down” came from the plague. It reminded us that death is a reality we do not yet have dominion over.
But we have forgotten. Forgotten that death can come and get us. Forgotten how to talk about it.
Maybe it is time for us to start to talk again about death. Maybe we would do ourselves some good to consider and talk about our own mortality and remind ourselves that we do not and cannot control everything all the time. That a certain humility is not a sign of weakness, surrender, or primitive fatalism but is a recognition that life cannot be hoarded and death not commanded…