An ode to Death.

It’s been a while since I can remember the last time I felt fear towards death.

As harbingers of scientific development and the study of who we are, why is it that we view solely birth as a ‘miracle?’ Why do we never discuss the ‘miracle of death?’ Death’s magic and inevitability places us all on equal footing. The scientist, the philosopher, the layman: none are experts on death, for there is nothing to know about. Not even neuroscientists or those who study the process of dying have an edge on us. We all stand, haphazardly by a precipice, blinded by the same fog that blurs the endless horizon of what stretches beyond.

No matter how close we come to it, death recedes before us. We are dead only for others. When the end actually arrives, it is my dead body that actually experiences it, not my subjective conscious experience. I will no longer be there.

Death is always described from the perspective of the living. As Ludwig Wittgenstein famously put it, “Death is not an experience in life.” And the trouble with death is that our fear prevents us from talking about it in the most human of ways; to look at how it grants us life, or bookends the final pitstop that began from birth. A farewell to arms, of sorts. It is not death we should be frightened of, therefore, but how we interpret it.

Death, in my eyes, is soft and gentle. A silver cascade of gentle, shimmering rain across a slate-grey shoreline, dressing the water’s edge in damp and light. I imagine it to be peace from everyday suffering. The end of tumultuous emotion and residual, festering pain. There is everything in nothingness; the void from whence we came. A maelstrom of potential creation all lies within the chasm of eternity. Death is the fulcrum that gives birth to life.

I have been fascinated by two famous philosophical ideas about death, one from Plato and the other from Spinoza. The first is that a philosopher has a burrowing fixation with death and constantly meditates upon it. The second is that the wise person thinks of nothing so little as death.

Maybe it’s my depression bias slipping in here, but perhaps the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Ignoring death leaves us with a false sense of life's permanence and may encourages us to lose ourselves in the minutiae of daily living. Incessant rumination on death, on the other hand, can leaden life’s potential for ourselves: food turns to ash in our mouths, and the world is seen in static sepia, rather than HD. We become too forlorn to act, and morality becomes an inconsequential, blasé notion.

Honestly coming to terms with one's death involves reflection on its significance in one's life, and thinking about the larger values that give us meaning. And to answer such questions surrounding it is as useful as asking oneself “when is blue?” or “what does a Monday do?”. There is no concrete, finite response, but we can do our best to come to terms with its gentle complexities.

In the end, it is useful to ponder upon death to the point that it frees us to live fully immersed in the life we have yet to live. Death is a freeing promise: that mundane suffering won’t last forever, but neither will the wind on our face on a Spring morning, or a hearty fire on a rainy night.

Death is peace, and underpins why we live. Death is not something I fear; it something I am grateful for.

Sophie Thomas