So I absolutely love my one sociology professor. I’m taking the class solely as an elective, and almost didn’t register for it, but the reviews for the professor were phenomenal. So I signed up. He’s an older Indian guy, with a heavy accent, and absolutely hilarious; he pretty much has the class in stitches every session. But then sometimes he randomly gives very deep lectures. Today was one of those days. In the midst of all the laughing a joking about Valentine’s Day, he started talking about death.
His aunt died a week ago in Nepal. He told us that he spent a few hours in shock, but then he was happy. She was extremely old, and has severe dementia. She was clearly suffering. He was sad that she was gone, but happy that she was no longer suffering. So he was, in a way, happy that she had died. The class was shocked for a few moments when he told us this, but then he kept talking.
He told us that in his culture, when he was young and growing up in it, death was nothing — it was just something that happened. His mom would even tell him “Do this, because someday you’re going to die.” Because of all this, no one avoided it or feared it. They would talk and make jokes about it. It sounds like a cliche, but death really was just a part of life.
“Your society is so dysfunctional,” he said. “You fear everything about death. Every time someone dies, it’s the worst possible thing. So you fear death more than anything else. That’s no way to live. Imagine if you all just accepted and embraced death. Imagine how much better your society would be. Death happens to everyone — every death is individual. It’s your death. You die alone — no one can go with you and you leave absolutely everything behind — but it’s your own unique death. Why not embrace it and love it?” He then went back to joking.
The class left laughing about all the jokes he made, but I can’t help thinking about that little five-minute lecture. He’s absolutely right. Our society is ridiculous when it comes to death. We’re so terrified about it that we don’t even talk about it. When I took a sociology class about later life, the most uncomfortable thing wasn’t talking about older people getting it on — it was talking about dying. No one wanted to talk about it. They just wanted to ignore it. But it happens to everyone. We have to talk about it. And there are a lot of emotions and issues involved with dying. It’s not something we can disregard until it’s about to happen to us or one of our loved ones.
He’s right about embracing and loving death as well. As he put it, “That doesn’t mean commit suicide. That just means embrace the uniqueness of it and don’t be afraid.” Death isn’t something we should fear. The problem is that we’re petrified about the unknown, and would rather do anything than face that uncertainty. I strongly believe that this is the reason for every religion — explaining the unknown. And this is something I’ve definitely struggled with as an atheist. What comes after? But now I’m beginning to think, “Why should it matter what comes after?” There’s no way at all to prepare for it, and every creature on the face of this earth has to face it. So we’re all on equal playing fields here. Why should we be afraid then?
Dispelling our terror of death and dying would indeed make us a better society. We would, has he says, have less disfunction, and would be better people over all. It something that, for me (and I suspect everyone), will be difficult to accept and embrace, but once we do, we can be at out full potential for doing good and becoming good beings. I’m glad I decided to take this class, if only for this one little lecture. I look forward to the lectures to come, and hope that they can be just as deep and idea-altering.