Sunday, September 2, 2012

The Game of Life

            Death is a funny thing. We spend most of our lives fleeing it with the full knowledge that it will catch up with us at some point. We delude ourselves into feeling that somehow death cannot touch us, that we will always be safe, that we will always be lucky in spite of all odds. It is strange that we can manage to simultaneously fear something and believe ourselves safe from it. I suppose it is the permanence, maybe; everything else in life can be altered and often is, but death cannot be changed. Such an absolute end is beyond comprehension.
            We are fascinated with the idea of life beyond death and the restoration of life to those who have died. Religion, of course, and countless literary works address it directly. The genres of fantasy and science fiction frequently depict worlds where death is less of a mystery, where it can be postponed or outright avoided. Ghosts, vampires, and zombies seem to me a manifestation of our desire for a return to the life we led before death and our simultaneous belief that if such a thing was possible, it would be inherently wrong, inherently at odds with life as it is and should be. What being born out of death in any work has ever been fully human? When has such an unnatural life form ever been allowed an existence that could be fully desired? An afterlife or a reincarnation seems not a bad alternative; if we cannot return to what we had, then at least we might gain entrance to something better. Picture after picture is painted for us by religion and authors of what awaits us after death, no one any more or less convincing than the last, but none able to quell that fear of the end that must come before the reward can be reached. Regardless of what we are promised waits for us after we die, we cling to life, shrinking away whenever the slightest shadow of death appears.
I could not honestly say that I do or do not believe in some sort of afterlife. I used to be convinced that death was a total obliteration of being, that there was nothing beyond it. Then I nearly drowned. Somehow, that made me much less certain. There is nothing like being unable to stop thinking about something to make you wonder whether you are actually right about it. Somewhere in the past year and a half or so, I came to the rather unimpressive understanding that, firstly, I did not want to die, but, secondly, I was going to, and thirdly, I did not want to waste my life worrying about it. I fear death – how could I not? – but a brush with it has made it seem more inevitable, and somehow that conviction that it is inescapable has made the idea less frightening to me. I do not want to die any time soon, but I refuse to let that cause me to hesitate at doing things I want to just because there is a chance I could die as a result, just because I almost died before. The only way I could influence how and when I die is suicide; it is impossible to prevent death, so refrain from actively tempting it, but why bother obsessing over fleeing it? As I said before, I possess no ideas about what will happen to me once I die, and I find that that makes little difference. Somehow the awareness and acceptance of my own mortality has made me somewhat happier. Strange that it should, but death is a strange thing.
Faced with death, would I fight? Of course I would. I would fight every step of the way. I may accept that death can take me at any time and that I can have virtually no say in when that time will be, but that does not mean that I will go willingly. Death will claim me eventually, but I intend to live as long and as fully as it is willing to let me. At the same time, if age and weakness rendered me unable to function on my own and as I wanted to, I cannot say that death would be entirely unwelcome. Regardless, when I die, if some part of my consciousness lives on, I intend to look Death in the eye and say, “Good game.” I may be doomed to lose, but I will enjoy playing without thought for the outcome. It is decided. Why not just enjoy the game?

-Emma Foster

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