Friday, March 2, 2012

Contemplating Old Age and Death.

Wretched, ephemeral race, children of chance and tribulation, why do you force me to tell you the very thing which it would be most profitable for you not to hear? The very best thing is utterly beyond your reach: not to have been born, not to be, to be nothing. However, the second best thing for you is: to die soon. - Aristotle, Eudemos
Greek critic, philosopher, physicist, & zoologist (384 BC - 322 BC)

"Live fast, die young, and have a beautiful looking corpse" - James Dean.
At the age of about ten I nearly died. After breakfast one Saturday morning, the first day off from the school week, when I was due out "to play", when windball cricket was in vogue (and "kids" played outside rather than inside) and Internet technology about 35 years away, I developed a severe abdominal pain. It was so bad that I had to lie down on the living room couch, while my worried parents were pretty sure what the problem was - appendicitis. The signs were there several years earlier, diagnosed by the family doctor as potential future threat. Notwithstanding the diagnosis, my parents decided to take me along on a sea trip to England in 1961, when I was six going on seven. I vaguely remember asking what would happen if appendicitis flared up while we were midway in the Atlantic. I recall my father saying something, in effect, that I could be operated onboard of necessary. In adulthood, I became a bit skeptical about this answer, and I was too young to know all the details, but maybe there was indeed a "medic" on board, and lower grade operating facilities. Whatever the truth, my parents were led to believe that help would be at hand should I develop apendicitis. As luck would have it, there was no emergency and all went well, but the "demon" struck on this Saturday morning, in the safety of our living room. I was nearly unconscious from the pain, but I do remember doctors and nurses hovering above me before the anaestethic took effect. The next memory was waking hours later with a very sore side, and being told what happened.

I was "lucky" that the finest surgeons and operating facilities were at hand to save my life. Some forty-seven years later, I think about a brother I never met, who died of rheumatic fever six years before I was born, when he was just 16 years old. A gifted artist (I've seen his work) and athlete, the bells tolled for him at that tender age. I read his personal diaries, in his own handwriting, long after his death, and in some ways felt a kinship, but I've never accepted the family "theory/belief" that I was a "reincarnation" of him. He was far more gifted, talented and gregarious, in fact so much more so that I've often wondered why he died at 16, and I'm still going at 57. (I am, incidentally, not a believer in the "only the good die young" saying. Lots of wicked people have died young, and lots of good people have lived to ripe, old ages.)

In that time, not alloted to my late brother, I've pondered a lot, and even sometimes wished we could have swapped places. But for some reason
I was the one destined to "live", but in that "living" I've realised the truth of Aristotle's quote (above). So in all of that "living", I honestly don't feel that I am "more blessed" than my late brother. The length of life is not what counts, but the breadth of life. My eldest son, in his early 30s, remarked to me the other day that "getting old is scary". I felt the same way in my early 30s. When I hit 30 I thought I could sense "death's door". At 57, I'm far more resigned and less worried, because I've realised that no matter how many "treasures" we may store up on earth (which even includes personal relationships), they will be completely worthless when we die, especially if one takes the atheist perspective!

If a man loves father or mother, or sister or brother, or family and friends, more than me, said Jesus, he is not worthy of me. As radical as that may sound coming from a "God-botherer", there's quite a bit of wisdom there that even Mammon can profit from. Make friends where you can, when you can, and in all the ways you can, and build up treasures on earth while you enjoy your sojourn here, especially when your faith in "God and Superstition" fails. As the Bobby McFerrin song goes, "Don't Worry, Be Happy". If there's one thing that this imperfect and sinful 57 year old has learned from life, it is that "I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit". (Eccl.1:14).

There must be, in short, a "reason", and if there no reason, no "plan", no purpose, then one might as well be, in Aristotle's wisdom - never to have been born.


  1. Ray, as always I enjoy reading you! The above article is of special interest... particularly the last paragraph re "reason".

    "Reason" is behind everything! Maybe it's gravity, temperature, anger, lust, greed, fear, it is the cause & effect thing, always.
    However, the more serious question is "what purpose is served by the product of "reason"?

    I don't agree with Aristotle. No one should,"never to have been born"! We can't escape some purpose, if it's simply being part of the "Social/industrial food-chain." Which in effect we all are, well rewarded or destitute.

    Unfortunately, one of the unChristlike attitudes of many, in our Christian world, is to belittle the under-endowed and heroize the successful... A situation that will change as humanity evolves to a higher enlightened civility. In my seriously considered opinion.

    Being 20 years on the good side of 50 (79) I've had time to "seriously consider" many things relating to life & death. And the negative impact that religion has had on both. My own near-death experience in 2010 left me with a great appreciation for medical science and for life itself.

    My greatest thanks goes to one nurse, who broke ranks from the 7 who circled my bed, and ran and returned with her arm full of heated blankets to wrap me in. Hypothermia was taking over as my blood pressure continued to fall. My family, that stood behind the nurses, was asked to leave. The nurse, after wrapping me, took my hand and commended me to stay awake and look into her eyes. Dopimin was fed into my blood, my blood pressure stabilized, my family came back in.

    I survived because of science, people and luck! And am most grateful to have done so. Life IS good. But dying is not to be feared. Unless it is in pain & suffering. Determined by luck. . .

  2. Looks as if I got things mixed up. I commented on Ray's, "On the wrong side of 50". And hit Publish.
    Guess I wasn't logged.
    Does that mean the 2 hours posting was a loss?
    What is the process?
    Roger (Canada)

  3. Roger wrote:

    "Unfortunately, one of the unChristlike attitudes of many, in our Christian world, is to belittle the under-endowed and heroize the successful... A situation that will change as humanity evolves to a higher enlightened civility. In my seriously considered opinion."

    I hope you're right, Roger. "The first shall be last, and the last shall be first" is perhaps an indictment on our materialistic culture and its idea of "success".