Our college lost another colleague a number of years ago that was also a tough loss. Jim was a stabilizing and intelligent presence, avoiding gaining influence just for the sake of influence. He was not about winning, he was about making sense. He also died of a heart attack. In his early 50s, he was with friends on a Colorado River trip in the Grand Canyon. Apparently his boat tipped and he swam to shore, whereupon he began complaining that his chest hurt. He went into cardiac arrest and that was that.
Jim had arthritis and was on medication. And yep, it had been reported that some of that medication was related to heart attacks. Certainly, he was too young and too in shape to just have an old-age-related heart attack.
Sometimes living seems like the road to dying. The paths we take are related to the way our life ends. But what is one to do? We cannot dodge death by constantly changing, as though starting a new path makes it difficult for death to find us. Certainly change, which is unavoidable anyway, does start a new path, but then all paths lead to death.
As I’ve written before, perhaps humans need a new definition for death—one grounded less in postulations, hope, and faith and more in figuring out realities. I think it a mistake to assume we cannot use our minds to grasp things outside of our physical experience. Einstein seemed to do quite well at thought experiments, and though most of us are not Einsteins, it does not mean we cannot get onto the idea. Ideas are doorways—thresholds—to other realities. Pass over those thresholds and there’s another reality, heretofore un-experienced.
In any case, it seems to me that the older we get, the more mortality seems to be upon us—after all, “premature” death is usually via some traumatic event. The older one gets, the more likely death is about physical “failure.” A lot of that “failure” is slow, giving us time to note what we call decline. Well, plug in stability—or our view of stability—and it is much easier to see that decline. But getting older is also about stability, setting down roots. But roots also makes it easier to see where and how we’ll end up. The bottom line: There’s just no avoiding that we are going to lay down the story of our life and our demise.
Somewhere along the line in these writings, I believe I wrote about the five things to know about living—those five individual knowings parallel the five social knowings: Who am I/we (think individual identity along with our collective identity)? What I am going to do (think contribution, individually and by human beings in general)? Who will I journey with (and who will journey with us)? Where will I/we live? Where and how will I/we (as in the species) die?
Let’s add a sixth knowing: What happens, if anything, after dying? Included in this sixth knowing is the legacy the individual and the collective have left and the likely path our individual and our collective physical death will take. This knowing means we’d better give some serious consideration to what death is—much more than what I think we’ve given it so far.
Somehow, I think the more learned we are, the more congruent we are in what we know and how we manifest that knowing. And I think that knowing the manner of our living and our dying is part and parcel in our individual and collective health and well-being. No matter how we live, we are headed towards losing our lives—as we know that life. With so much adversity in human doings nowadays, and so much disconnect from one another, and so much emphasis on living for the importance of life beyond the physical, or living life as though there is nothing beyond the physical, we’re just not operating in a sane fashion. Sanity has something to do with correctly organizing the relationships between our thoughts, our present doings, and our projections into and onto other nows.
Just as scientists and academics must put out their ideas and knowledge for others to review, so must each of us. And we do that whether we know it or not, both individually and as a social unit. But let’s know it. And let’s try to be more accurate. And let’s give some more thought to the discrepancies, rather than to assume we’re correct and ignore or wipe out those we think are incorrect. We need to go to the table, to the universe, and we need to see in the mirror of ourselves, what we’re doing and why and where that is likely leading.
This effort might not have saved Dasiea or Jim from the manner of their dying. And this effort might not save a culture or the human race from the manner of their demise, but it at least might give us a clearer, less neurotic or psychotic picture about what we’re really doing and what is really happening. And in the clarity of that picture, we might be a little happier and saner.