Happy 42 day!
For fans of Douglas Adams’ book The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, the “ultimate answer to life, the universe and everything” is as well known as the fact that the sun seems to rise every morning.
The question of the “answer to life” has been one which has puzzled me, as I’m sure it puzzles many others. On a recent red-eye flight from California to New York, at 3 AM in some time zone, I had one of those moments of startling clarity where everything seems to make sense. Perhaps, I thought, by flipping the problem around, I might find the “answer” I was seeking.
Time only appears to go in one direction (as much as we might like to believe that time travel is possible). Does the answer to life reside in the comprehension of death?
Now, one’s first reaction to such a question might be to consider it a morbid thought, as if hastening death. That is certainly not my intention. Another reaction could be to find fault with the simplistic obviousness of the question. Yet another might find the concept to be typical of an always balancing Libra. Well, dear reader, please allow me to explain why this particular thinking is neither morbid nor negative. In fact, I believe that death can be seen as a beautiful complement to life.
Clearly, if one is to think about our existence from a philosophical perspective, death is the force that balances life.. such as yin is to yang. Certainly, this is a somewhat logical interpretation of the concept. But intuition tells me that there is something more.. something even simpler, deeper, and profound; something that doesn’t require any philosophy at all.
It is in the consideration of life as having a “terminus”, or an end point, that it becomes ever more clear that life, or “to live”, is defined as “everything that occurs up until the endpoint, death”. Again, while this may not be a revolutionary concept, it is one that when considered plainly caused me to at least sit up straight and think about the fact that.. oh yeah – I’m living life right now! How about that?
Sometimes, the simple recognition for just an instant/moment that one is alive, living, and breathing is a very meaningful, and powerful experience.
Just think about it – right now, you’re sitting there reading this.. all you need consider is that you are there! Alive! Reading what I wrote! Thinking thoughts along with me! It is truly remarkable!
One thing I noticed, when contemplating death, is the innate fear we have of the thing. I have a gut instinct that no matter who you are, or what you believe, it is an idea that is complex and usually not one that people choose to consider. And yes, death can be quite unpleasant for so many reasons. Yet, it is in the contemplation of the difference in state between life and death that we realize which one of the two we might value more at a given time.
Death, in and of itself, could be seen as sort of a grand, unifying force that equalizes all people. Perhaps it’s bad taste to use this as a comparison, but just like the children’s book “Everybody Poops”, which was written to point out our shared commonality while teaching body science… everybody dies, too.
While death is an interesting topic, I would rather return to the use of death as a balance to recognizing the value of life. Regardless of religious belief of an afterlife, there can be almost no argument to the statement that death is a change in functional state which represents no longer living.
Therefore, we should focus on our lives, and living, before we reach the next state. And oh, how much there is to experience in life, whether it be good or bad. While we have only a certain degree of control over our lives, and the world around us, it seems to make sense that we should enjoy whatever occurs to us while we are in the state of living. We should do so because it is only when we are “alive” that we get to experience those things.
Life, and living are good things, and a unique experience, which we can try to cherish, respect, and enjoy. We learn, we grow, we age, we change. While longer than the life of a butterfly, our lives are not much longer nor any less beautiful and amazing when considering a much grander time-scale.
These thoughts are humbling, to me at least. Life and death should not necessarily be a cause for fear in daily action (although often they are a consideration), but rather as a reassurance since these forces unite us all for what we truly are. These forces unite us, and they represent what it means “to be, or not to be”… but that is not a question.. because, we all are, and will have been, in much the same way!