I remember, before I had my first kiss, wondering what it was like. But enough movies and TV time, plus hearing my friends’ explanations, had given me a pretty good guess at what was coming. When it comes to dying, I can’t exactly text my friends who have all the details. Death is an event we must experience alone.
I do know that when you die, you will no longer breath. Your heart will no longer beat. You will no longer blink, move, have headaches, cry, cough, laugh, hug. You will no longer have your body, and all that it does for you.
Writing that, I actually feel panic. I want to delete those words. Those words are wrong. As a young adult, I am acutely aware of how my body has not yet begun to fail. I like to hug my friends, to feel them in a very human and material way. I like to laugh. I enjoy running, lying in the sun, eating pizza. I love living, and it is terrifying that some day I will not be living.
Not only does it terrify me, but it angers me on a visceral level. How wrong is it that I should not always be so? Why must my body decay? As a Christian I have faith and hope in the resurrection of the body. As a human being, I worry.
Two Terrifying Possibilities
Allan Bloom, in a fantastic lecture on Plato’s Apology, states that “learning how to die rationally” is a fundamental goal of philosophy, and that it is a hard thing to do. The three possibilities man faces are: Heaven, Nothing, or Hell. Two of those doors open to terrifying options, and the philosopher must face that they are each possibilities. If, as Bloom says, philosophic contemplation is the highest natural act of man, then philosophy is for the living, but it could be consumed by death.
Man might never think again after death, because he would no longer be. Bloom argues that the reason philosophy must prepare men for death is that “philosophy doesn’t live for hope, philosophy lives for truth, which is the exact opposite of hope.” Facing death as possibly this terrible alternative is necessary for the one who wants to learn how to die.
Death is terrible. But the Word became Flesh to save men from their sins and grace them with eternal life. This promise of life does not change the fact that men die, that I will die, but it pierces the veil into that death, it removes the viciousness of death’s sting.
To have the hope that is founded on a truth more fundamental than the truth known by natural reason is a gift that humanity did not have prior to Christ. Perhaps, in a post-Christian society, this is the hope many no longer have. The loss of this hope might explain, in part, our fascination with youth and fear of decay: we again live in a world so terrified of death that we lose the strength to accept and defy it as the martyrs once did.
Remember during this Advent season to think about death, and rejoice in the incomprehensible love that led God to become man, and to die, so that we might live.