Ageism. However wrong it is, however much individual pain and debilitating consequences result from it and how many people are harmed is, to a degree, about fear of death. The young do not want to believe they too will get old one day and will not escape this world alive. So those whose appearance would remind them of their unavoidable end are shunned.
But a funny thing happens to some people, thoughtful people, those with a philosophical bent as that day draws nearer; they come to not only accept their death, but in many cases to welcome it – and not just those who are sick or disabled or those who believe in afterlife.
“Death is the true and best friend of humanity…the key which unlocks the door to our true state of happiness.
- - Mozart
”Death seems to me so often a relief, a rendering up of responsibility, a quitting of many vexatious trifles.”
- - Ralph Waldo Emerson
“We are put on this earth to celebrate. You give it everything you have. Everything. That includes your death. The greatest thing you can do is possess your own death so that when it comes it is given, not taken. Honor your own death. It is a sacrament…Death renders life magnificent…Death walks beside one, and so does whatever one’s sense of God is, or the sublime.”
- - Scott Symons
These quotes are from a marvelous collection, Light on Aging and Dying, selected by Helen Nearing. I have not stopped reading and pondering these quotations since the book was published more than a decade ago. It sits always beside my bed.
Ms. Nearing divides this little book into three sections on old age, dying and death. Thinkers as far back as ancient Egypt and China, through the intervening years and up to today are represented. It is a good thing, as we get older, to know what conclusions others have come to regarding the final passage of life.
Many of these people have remarked on the need for the living to make room for those coming up behind us:
“There is a usefulness of time when a man should go, and not occupy too long the ground to which others have a right to advance.”
- - Thomas Jefferson
“I am old; I am going to die…I often think about it. I am getting ready…It is time for me to disencumber the world.”
- - Victor Hugo
“Every human death is ultimately for the good of the group.”
- - Robert S. Morison
“Coming at its due time, when the organism has given all it can give, death is the great minister of orderly evolution.
- - Gustav Geley
“Every part of nature teaches that the passing away of one life is the making room for another. The oak dies down to the ground, leaving within its rind a rich virgin mold, which will impart a vigorous life to an infant forest.”
- - Henry David Thoreau
“Death is only Nature’s remedy for over-crowding.”
- - George Bernard Shaw
Present-day culture is so adept at hiding death from us, of making the subject taboo in conversation that it is a revelation - and a relief - to know that that some people have a different view.
“For myself, I do not need to look in terms of survival after death. I feel myself to be part of the known properties of earth’s family, and that is enough. One day, the breath I have been privileged to use will become again a part of the earth’s family being…If there is another place to catch up with the ‘breath,’ I hope it will be as challenging as it has been here; but if it does not exist, it is enough that I have lived.”
- - Eileen D. Garrett
“All that nature has prescribed must be good; and as Death is natural to us, it is absurdity to fear it.”
- - Sir Richard Steele
“As to you, Death, and your bitter hug of mortality, it is idle to try to alarm me.”
- - Walt Whitman
“Perhaps the best cure for the fear of death is to reflect that life has a beginning as well as an end. There was a time when you were not; that gives us no concern. Why then should it trouble us that a time will come when we shall cease to be? To die is only to be as we were before we were born.”
- - William Hazlitt
“Proceed, then, clear-eyed and laughing. Go to greet Death as a friend.”
- - Rupert Brooke
In hiding death from our everyday lives, we deny ourselves the chance to remember and contemplate that it is the greatest mystery of all. I don’t want to go to my grave without thoughtful preparation for it.
“Like a projectile flying to it goal, life ends in death. Even its ascent and its zenith are only steps and means to this goal. We grant goal and purpose to the ascent of life, why not death? For 20 years and more the growing man is being prepared for the complete unfolding of his individual nature, why should not the older man prepare himself 20 years and more for his death?
- - Carl Jung
“Death is, by all odds, the most important and overshadowing thing that confronts man. Of all the phenomena of nature confronting him, there is nothing else of greater importance.”
- - Clarence Darrow
“What a simple thing death is, just as simple as the falling of an autumn leaf.”
- - Vincent van Gogh
“I have always believed that the moment of death is the norm and the goal of life.”
- - Simone Weil
“For my part, I would like to die fully conscious that I am dying…slow enough to allow death to insinuate itself into my body and fully unfold, so as not to miss the ultimate experience, the passage.”
- - Marguerite Yourcenar
“To die should be the most interesting journey of all the journeys a man can make.”
- - Jan Willem van de Wetering
“It is too bad that dying is the last thing we do, because it could teach us so much about living.”
- - Robert M. Herhold
[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lia tells how she learned more in catechism class than the teacher probably intended in The Shawn of My Childhood.]