By Dilia Suriel
During a survey of what people fear most public speaking came in first, death came in second. While this conveys the terror toward public speaking, “death” remains forbidden. To clear a party simply mention “dying.” It is tantamount to social suicide.
Let’s start with religion. It has been stated that “Religion is the human response to being alive and having to die.” A study demonstrated that once believers are in imminent threat of death, their faith in an afterlife dramatically increases. Additionally it showed that there is nothing more powerful in modifying a believer’s behavior than their prospect of life after death.
What motivates this aversion? Is our fear of death a desire for immortality? In her book “Anger in the Sky,” Susan Ertz stated “Millions long for immortality who do not know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon.” Why would immortality hold anything beyond our typical day? And would we thrive in a society where our values are no longer embraced by the ‘young people’? Or is it a need for heritage that fuels this dread? A Greek proverb states “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” Across space and time the legacy of Mozart, Botticelli, Mother Theresa, Tesla, Michelangelo continues. Albert Einstein states that “Our death is not an end if we can live on in our children and the younger generation. For they are us, our bodies are only wilted leaves on the tree of life.”
“We understand death for the first time when he puts his hand upon one whom we love.”
As a young adult I had the fortune of having a father who discussed the value of God versus the concept of God. He had a comedy routine about having been thrown out of 2nd grade for being a disturbance, yet he introduced his children to Nietzsche, Rousseau and Castro. He had a constellation of gifts that made him vibrant, intelligent, tenacious, driven and inspiring. He was by far an imperfect husband, but as a father he worked fervently to underwrite our attendance to the very best schools; however, he insisted on the distinction between knowledge and education. He taught us the merits between dreams versus facts, hope versus experience and truth versus reality.
I was seventeen when my family was devastated by his death a few weeks short of his 44th birthday. To convey the despair, the loss that shrouded our existence, would be hellish. However we were compelled to honor his life and fulfilled his dream and thus return him to life. We put ourselves through college and completed advanced law and medical doctorates. Despite his untimely death he brought forward a legacy forged more potent, more present, by the life of his children.
So the question remains: Do we die every day because we live the fear of dying over and over again? Is death our emotional inability to say “I care for you. You matter to me. I’m sorry.” Or is it not singing that one song within us that is muffled by fear? Or uttering the poems that crave to be spoken? Isaac Asimov once stated that “If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live, I wouldn’t brood. I’d type a little faster.”
My Lake Chapala community has taught me the wisdom summarized by Norman Cousins: “The true death is the fear of living. Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live.” This wisdom is distilled in the questions: Can the fear of dying co-exist with living fully? Do we learn how to die when we embrace life joyfully? Or is our most profound lesson to embrace our mortality that enlightens us?
While at a hospice I learned the reverence for life, an acceptance of our shared frailties, an embracement of the preciousness of each moment and a compassion for every person. I saw no fear of death, but I experienced a tangible appreciation for life.
The opposite of love is not hate, it is indifference.
The opposite of art is not ugliness, it is indifference.
The opposite of faith is not heresy, it is indifference.
And the opposite of life is not death, it is fear.
(Ed. Note: This is an excerpt from the book Midlife Radiance, which is for sale at Diane Pearl’s boutique in Ajijic.)