November 2, 2012

Dying Responsibly.

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Our society spends an exorbitant amount of money on the last few weeks of life.

The numbers are so astronomical that they take away from programs for children and education—the very engines of a healthy, productive society and then saddle the living with growing debt. I understand supporting life and living out our days to the fullest potential, but must we have a war with the inevitable, with death?

(See this 60 Minutes article: The Cost f Dying.)

What if, as a culture, we were okay with dying?

What if we were strong enough when the time comes to just let go instead of passing the bill to the next generation? Some might call it the highest form of patriotism, but I think it is an action of claiming a fundamental part of life: its ending.

This isn’t some ploy to get ride of annoying in-laws or to create those infamous “death panels” that make conservatives shudder, it is a personal decision—one rooted in faith: whether it is a Zen master’s faith in the moment and the mind, naturally releasing his life force in the midst of meditation when he is ready, or a devout believer who is prepared to pass into the next celestial realm, together they constitute a peaceful, natural ending.

The San people, our closest common ancestors who still inhabit the harsh Kalahari Desert in Africa, sit with their elderly and then leave them with a fire in a fortified enclosure to pass into the night, to meet the gods and compost into the soil that nourished them throughout their lives. I don’t see this as good or bad, just natural.

Tibetan lamas have been known to sit with corpses while they decompose under the sun. This practice isn’t disgusting, though it gives me the heebee geebees, it is a real and profound recognition of our common human fate. We might learn a thing or two about reality and necessary boundaries from our ancestors. It isn’t a science equation, just wisdom.

We can have a war on drugs, a war on terrorism, a war on poverty (though we might want to re-approach how we deal with these issues), but let’s not have a war on death. We’re not going to win that one. It could be interesting to reclaim the very thing that makes what is new, fresh and bright possible—death—and then learn a thing or two about the life that is here.


Editor: Brianna Bemel


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