Why Do People Die?

My brother-in-law’s grandmother passed away last week. Another funeral, less than a year after my father passed away. When I was young, I never thought about death. I took people for granted. I remember one summer day, when I was nineteen, looking around at the people at the beach, taking them in as is. As if old people were born old, and young people were born young.

I knew death was out there, of course, but it was a distant, impersonal idea. Would never happen to me or my family, right?

Then you get older, and all the loved ones you took for granted start dropping like flies, from grandparents, to parents and uncles.

And at the funeral you sit there, listening to their adult children reminisce about them, about a life full of memories and loving deeds and sacrifices, and decisions. And that is all gone, left to weak, fallible, and fading memory of their children and friends. And when the latter are gone, there’s nothing left.

It’s like Rutger Hauer’s character in the movie Blade Runner:

I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.

All that wisdom, all those memories. Gone like tears in the rain.

Sometimes I wonder, would we become wiser if we were to live a thousand years instead of a hundred? Would it make a difference? What is it with most people, who go through life grudgingly, never really living, but then cling to it with shark’s teeth, not willing to let go?

Is it just because of fear of the afterlife? Or lack of it?

I’ve done a 180 on old age and death. I took them for granted  when I was young; yet now they seem so unnatural. We all want to live forever. You’d think that, after eons on this speck of dust whirling around a tiny nuclear furnace at the periphery of an obscure galaxy, in a numbingly silent and ruthless universe, humans would get used to it. but no, here we are, mourning the death of loved ones and dreading our own, cursing every grey hair and every new wrinkle on our precious skin. 

Is this really because we were created to be immortal?

I believe so. I still think it’s the best explanation, no matter how post-Christian and secular is the world around us. It makes sense to me that old age and death are really an act of mercy on the part of our Creator. This is, after all, a most miserable planet, full of selfishness and war and abuse and hate. Wasn’t it Will Durant who said that, in the last 3,500 years of history, our planet has only seen 268 years of peace? Eight percent.

We are a pathetic race.

Some good exceptions, for sure, but overall a wasted experiment.

It seems, however, that our Creator has not given up on us. I can understand that, the creative pride of having made something that was good. I can see that in the eyes of young children.

Such beauty. Such innocence. Such potential.

Yet, we rebelled. And after thousands of years of progress and technological wizardry, we are still moral morons, fighting for the very same things our ancestors gave their lives for: pride, lust, money. Perennial horny monkeys who never learn from their mistakes.

And what is the artist supposed to do when his beautiful creation goes astray?

Should he fight for it? Or give it up?

I guess it’s hard to give up the creature when it has consciousness, and can feel pain and pleasure. Hard, even when the creature rebels and turns to evil.

So what do you do? I guess, what I would do, if I were a loving creator, I would respect the freedom of my creatures. I would grant them some time to figure out that evil leads to death, literally, and love leads to life. Eternal life.

I would let them play this “moral tic tac toe” game, either for real or in their head, for them to reach the inescapable conclusion that eternal life and happiness can only be possible when all the members live out, voluntarily, the Golden Rule, a rule that was given to them and that was also sealed in their hearts.

All other ways lead to death.

Sooner or later.

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