Are you “Skeered of dyin’?”

I’m askin’.

You answerin’?

That’s my theme today. ‘Cause I’m gittin’ old. You are, too. But not like me. You have Life? Then you’ve got Death. Fact of life, is dying and death. Since that is so, you need an attitude. “Attitude” is defined as your characteristic response to any stimulation coming from your environment (e.g., your death). An expression of your distinct personality, “distinct” being your profile over time that sets you aside as an individual harboring your ego.

Ah gits weary
An’ sick of tryin’
Ah’m tired of livin’
An’ skeered of dyin’,
But ol’ man river,
He jes’keeps rolling’ along.

In those lyrics is hidden a grand metaphor for an answer to my title question. It seems easy for some people to throw away a life, for some pretext that may seem trivial to everybody else. Like the guy who, for revenge against his wife, found it his supreme statement of self and his pain to immolate himself, his house and his two beautiful children in his bargain with his evil demon.

(Do you have demons? If even just small ones?)

But for the rest of us awaiting the inevitable, the normal people in the vast, almost unanimous majority, there is courage. Courage is enduring discomfort with fortitude. Fortitude is strength of mind, character and resolve. That strength comes of reflection. Reflection is a thought process. A thought process is a reasoning process. A process is a step by step analysis, in this case, the balancing of alternatives.

What are your alternatives, facing the inevitable?

Most, it seems to me, think of the religious scenario giving comfort of a life in death in some paradise in some “place”. With some ethereal being to divide the winners from the losers. It’s almost like the “tiente” to separate the “toro” (the fighting bull for the glorious death in the corrida de toros) from the “manso” (the tame beef stock).

Then there is the nausea of the existentialists.

But I think it is more like ol’ man river, he jes’keeps rolling’ along. There is the stream of human life, like no other life on Earth. Human life has the substance of reason and imagination and the legacies of those characteristics for the steady stream of study accumulating, an ol’ man river, just keeping on, rolling along. And we are like the silt in that stream that keeps piling up. Just as I came along, others will certainly come along. More babies, and maybe in an increasingly managed and controlled way the population will learn what is the optimum population for the energy resources remaining, and the “not-yous” will be there, facing the same inevitability as you are, after a lifetime, extended somewhat by better study and learning, and also with the same ol’ man river of life that jes’keeps rolling along, and along, and along, and…….

My way of thinking about it is hopeful, I think, forward looking, and grounded in the nature of human life on this Earth, involving me in the affairs of now for the “not-me’s” of a future. Non-religious. Independent of some higher power I am hard pressed to conceive as the anthropomorphic higher power that more naive folks envision as a “father”. I know there are those mighty, mighty forces in the universe, but I cannot condense them into an anthropomorphic vessel like most people do. They have dirty names for me and my ilk because that is how they shore up or bolster their faith, putting me and my ideas down as a simple, sad case of an inferior specimen.

There will be life after death, not yours, but like yours, perhaps even a particle from yours and perhaps better, if you have done your share of study today to make a contribution. I am writing my book.

Tired of livin’?
Skeered of dyin’?

The way of it may be painful, losses of the loves of my present life, great losses, but no different from those losses of the billions of others preceding, and those of generations to come. I raise my own personal losses above those of others for my moments remaining, but there is the promise of ol’ man river rolling along, lessening my becoming skeered of dyin’. That is something, at least. A small, but good thing, don’t you see?

The consequence of it may be further joy of life, with ol’ man river, as the stream of life
keeps rollin’ along.

“Ah, peace. Sweet peace. Most lovely lapsing of this my soul into the plasm of peace, the core of nothingness.” (D.H.Lawrence wrote that.)

And some rebirth. Life survives me. There will inevitably be other “me” beings, with the egos of personhoods that will feel like mine, so long as the present generation does the right things for the future.

Death and dying are something bigger than any individual. It’s egos that take a beating in that process. There is a larger plan for life in the cosmos, from this perspective on Earth. The life cycles are the plan of evolutionary iterations to assay life’s ingredients and ready succeeding generations for the ever-changing environments; life is environment dependent. The plan is to record histories of passing parades of physiques and re-fit them for newly developing surroundings where they are to maintain their lives. Life is mainly concerned with survival.

Death can be a good. If you are well adapted and live long, you probably have the best of what it takes to survive in you, and you probably had that in you from birth, and had the good of adaptability to pass on, and the race will have benefitted from your life.

Hwish. The slate is wiped clean. But the residue floats away for a very long time in the memories traced in all the others on whom your essence has left an impression, and with whom you have left a genetic heritage-message, and that is your immortality, to go how far you cannot calculate. Just feel it will be there, and rest assured. It is not really over when you pass.

William Cullen Bryant, an American Poet

He was very young, as I remember, when he wrote a poem entitled “Thanatopsis”, meaning, a view of death. He wrote it at the age of seventeen.

When I was a secondary school teacher, I had my students read the poem and memorize the last stanza. In class, I would have them all in succession stand and recite what they had memorized. I would ask them to recite with as much dramatic and appropraite feeling as they could emote. I would award a small prize to the one who gave the most outstanding performance.

The last stanza:

So live, that when thy summons comes to join
The innumerable caravan which moves
To that mysterious realm where each shall take
His place in the silent halls of death,
Thou go not, like the quarry-slave at night,
Scourged to his dungeon; but, sustain’d and soothed
By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave,
Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch
About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams. (1814)

This is a poem that I have written, near to the subject of this essay:

San Paku*

Step back, and see what you have painted here.
Not that inflamed by ego’s appetites.
The one completely satisfying sphere
of extra-individual delights,
beyond the harmony in choirs of friends,
beyond the lyric of self-expression’s modes,
beyond the measured beat of nature’s trends,
beyond a pre-death faith in post-death’s roads,
remains the trust that human life rolls on
through san paku beyond the end of “I”.
Roll on, roll on, for I, oblivion,
but works of “I” pass on through newborn eyes.
Make leaps to higher plains of gentle ways.
Bequeath to not-I’s peace in happy days.

*San Paku is a Japanese descriptive phrase for the certain look that appears in the eyes of one on the threshold of death. Life has been drained to a critically low level.

I could say more because death has that special and difficult insight to give, but let me just leave it at that. Just think of your old age now, to make it better by pre-vision, if you are smart. Dummies do not have a clue about any future. Dangerous people have no such care; for them, it is all NOW! Identify them and avoid them.

That’s why I am political, the art and science of making policy for better futures. And you should, too.

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