And life everafter

July 7, 2016 § Leave a comment

Pendant with a monk and deathI’ve now been subscribing to The Economist for the last six months and each week I find myself looking forward to the new issue. But of the all columns and articles they print there’s one in particular that I await eagerly: the obituary. Written incisively and with wit it’s a joy to read about the lives lived. But my interest and fascination extends beyond good writing; to reasons that many of you may understand.

For as long as we’ve been aware of our demise it’s engrossed our minds. Indeed, death is what gives our lives meaning. The finiteness of our existence renders each moment, each experience with a profundity; for it may be the last time. And as we’ve grown aware of this fact we have tried desperately to forestall death; to strike a deal for live everlasting by repenting and asking for forgiveness; by searching for a certain fountain that grants us immortality; and even by storing our bodies in sub-zero temperatures.

But perhaps the answer lies in something much simpler. Viktor Frankl in his memoir Man’s Search for Meaning, argued that it was work, love, and death which gave our lives meaning. Work and love also grant us immortality. To have our achievements, the values and principles we stood for along with the misery and cruelty we inflicted upon others remembered by those who love and despise us confers a type of immortality; for this world confers immortality to both the benevolent and the barbarous.

The Economist’s obituaries commemorate the greatest men and women to have lived. And yet there are obituaries printed every day exalting the lives of lesser known figures; some existing not in print but as mere memory in the minds of those who were closest to them. Regardless of how many or of how few we touched, the fact that we continue to linger long after our bodies have been degraded is testament to the fact that we meant something. That in spite of the erratic, pointless nature of life we meant something to someone. A question that we all grapple with before the nothingness of eternal oblivion shrouds us.

When others around him were preparing their souls for the afterlife Dante, surprisingly for a 13th century Christian, believed that it wasn’t just salvation in the next world that mattered, but peace and happiness in this one too. Immortality doesn’t involve Homeric quests, heroic achievements, or living forever but of having lived with purpose.


Image: Pendant with a Monk and Death belonging to the Walters Art Museum is licensed under CC Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

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