Mention the word death and most of us will respond with a face contorted with horror. Death is a word that has become more and more taboo.
We are uncomfortable discussing death and its implications. Those that do are declared as morbid. Whenever it is brought into conversations, someone usually moves to push the conversation on to a more comfortable footing.
Our relationship with death is funny. Apart from taxes, which you can avoid if you live in a tax haven, death is a certainty. From the minute we are born, we start on a slow path towards our impending end.
On the surface, it’s easy to see why most people don’t want to talk about this. It’s uncomfortable considering one’s mortality. It’s much more comforting to stick your head in the sand and carry on without a thought for the inevitable end.
However, is this such a good idea?
To ignore the nature of our existence in such a fundamental manner is dangerous. It can lead us to become complacent about the way we lead our lives.
Instead, of appreciating that our time on this planet is limited, we may postpone what we want because we believe time is on our side.
Far from being the macabre and morbid entity, we believe it to be, death is a vehicle we should use to improve our lives. By recognising that our time is limited, we will be able to put it to good use.
Death Makes Life Worthwhile
On the surface, our aversion to death makes sense. Why would we want to talk about the very thing that ends our existence on this planet?
However, when you step back and look at life as a whole, life without death has no meaning. This may sound counter-intuitive, after all, no one wants to die, but it makes sense the more you think about it.
Consider the character of Wolverine from X-Men. Through a mutation of his DNA, he can regeneratively heal himself. If he is hit by bullets, stabbed or hit by a car, his body is restored to its prior state.
As such, Wolverine is essentially immortal. Born in the 1880s, he survives into the modern-day, still a healthy and functioning adult. However, he is noticeably moody and brooding.
When you look back through the character’s biography, it’s not hard to see why. He has fought in two world wars, lost several people close to him and suffered a lot of woe.
The worst part is, because of his healing abilities, there is no end in sight. Wolverine is condemned to repeat this cycle over and over until his body finally gives up hundreds of years after his birth.
Those closest to him continually pass away, while he remains anchored to the world. He may have cool claws, super strength and healing ability, but he also has a lonely existence.
I realise I am describing the travails of a fictional character, but it has resonance for all of us. One of our biggest fears as a species is the inevitability of death.
Nowhere is this more evident than in Silicon Valley, where several founders of large companies are investing millions in efforts to extend their lives.
While many will look at the quest to live forever with envy, is there a reason to be envious of people who want to live forever? As much as we may not like the idea of death, it provides our lives with certainty and urgency.
Living forever is a fanciful notion, but when you look at it closer, it turns out to be a horror story with no clear ending.
The spectre of death is what compels us to get up each morning and make the most of our time. If this spectre was removed, what incentive would you have to make the most of your life?
If death was a far-flung possibility it would lead to malaise and a lack of urgency to do anything.
Death may destroy us physically but the very notion of death saves us. It allows us to cherish life and appreciate the time we have. It inspires us to push ourselves to achieve something of note while we still can.
If our ancestors had not had this burning desire to push forward, explore new places and push the boundaries of what was possible we would still be here to die. When death is taken off the table, the need to act is removed.
We can exist in perpetuity without fear of repercussion. Why do anything, when you have eternity to do everything you desire?
One of the aspects of life that is unquestionably true is that we only begin to cherish it when we are faced with the threat of its removal.
Maybe this is why extreme sports such as bungy-jumping and skydiving are so popular. The thrill comes from pushing the boundaries of what the body and the mind find acceptable.
The feeling of being alive that many people experience during these moments is also the realisation that they are walking on a tightrope. They have strayed outside of their comfort zone and death is now a real possibility.
The same thing applies to peering over a cliff edge. Notice how you become more aware of your surroundings and how your body feels. You are reacting to the danger inherent in your actions.
One wrong step and it could be game over. You feel so alive in these moments because you are so close to death you can reach out and touch it.
While it’s not a good idea to seek out these moments all the time, they do serve as timely reminders of the fragility of our existence now and again.
The Latin word for this line of thinking is Memento Mori, which translates as Remember Your Death. It’s an important maxim we should recall as we got about our daily business.
If we leave thoughts about our mortality in the recesses of our mind we run the risk of drifting through life. We will all be forgotten one way or another, once our time on this planet is up, but that doesn’t mean we should waste it.
Being alive is a precious and rare gift. Not everyone who is born into this world lives long enough to make the most of it. Many babies die prematurely, while hundreds of children die well before their time every year.
This is a tragedy, but it is also an inescapable fact of life. It’s what makes each day we get is precious. We all die, we don’t get to choose when, but we do get to choose how we lead our lives.
Death may be uncomfortable to think and talk about, but it is a necessary one. It is by keeping death close that we can live our best lives.
Use it as a motivation, as a force to push you on and achieve what you want. We are here for such a small amount of time, it’s a waste not to make the most of it. No excuse exists for meandering through life, it is a dereliction of the gift of life.
After all, life is to be lived and it is by remembering our inevitable fate that we can live it to the full.