It has been one of those weeks here in southern Minnesota. The kind that leaves you wondering about metaphysics. Questions pop into your head like: Why do we die in the first place? How come death comes so suddenly and surprisingly to so many people? Why do the good die young? Why are some people genetically predisposed to self-destruct? Why are some people allowed to exit life gracefully and more or less depart on their own terms? Why do others literally go out with a bang? Why does losing an inanimate ‘friend’ that you’ve had for decades hurt on a level approaching the sorrow I feel for losing real friends and family?
And how many people in this world are committing suicide in ‘slow motion’? Too afraid to pull a trigger or take a bottle of pills, so they turn to drink, drugs, smoking, speeding, riding motorcycles, engaging in ‘daredevil behavior’, etc? How many ‘one-car rollovers’ late at night are not accidents? How many Purple Hearts were awarded because the soldier had a death wish and wasn’t acting out of bravery?
I’ve asked myself these questions over and over since last Thursday when I received the news that a friend of mine succumbed to depression and paid the ultimate price for not accepting treatment. On top of that, a friend’s elderly father passed away three days earlier. He led a rich, rewarding, spiritual, charitable life and was remembered fondly by his townsfolk. So was my suicidal friend, although he lived barely half as long as the elderly man, so his accomplishments couldn’t possibly have been as numerous.
Just yesterday, a cousin-in-law died as a result of alcoholism. The only bright side of that was she was an organ donor, so her organs will give life to many people. And the husband of a co-worker of my wife’s is near death after suffering a stroke and then having cancer discovered all throughout his body. Two weeks ago, he was probably feeling fine and had no reason for concern about his health.
A grand-aunt of mine is 99, is diagnosed with terminal cancer, and may pass away any day now, too. She was sharp as a tack all those years, but pain wracked her body for most of the last decade or more. Her “punishment”, if you will, was having her mind outlive her body. She would have liked to do many things that her body wouldn’t allow. That’s suffering I hope I never have to endure. She endured it with grace and good humor. I hope when her time comes, it’s on her terms and she’s ready for what’s to come, satisfied that she lived the best life she could with what she was given in mind, body, and spirit.
With death being inevitable, and rearing its ugly head in waves on occasion, as it has done for me this week, my big question is: How do we humans keep on going, knowing that in the end, it’s all academic? I haven’t been sufficiently convinced there is an afterlife, so I can’t view that as a reward for all our time on ‘this mortal coil’. Yet we persevere, struggle, innovate, extend life, improve our condition, make room for still more people on the planet, so they too can experience the joys and sorrows of life and death.
Where will it all end? I have no idea, but the prospect of waking up each day to find out what will happen next in this billion-year soap opera we call life on Earth keeps me going. Anyone have any answers to my questions? And yes, I’ve read the Bible and taken Philosophy in college. 🙂