Category Archives: Musings

Thoughts about death

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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.

Moving on

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For the past few weeks, there’s been one thing that’s been at the fore of my mind — moving on. For the past five years, I’ve volunteered with an amazing program at a local church. It’s basically been my favorite week out of every year, and I love all of the people involved in it. After my fourth year, the then-current director approached me about taking over after her. I was, of course, ecstatic, and already planning my first year. For my fifth year, I actually helped run the program. But at the end of the week of the program, I was blindsided by something — I probably wasn’t going to be the one to take over. I was devastated. I felt like I had been offered something amazing, only to have it snatched away from me. I couldn’t blame the director — she always tries to do what’s best for the program — but I was beyond unhappy, and at a loss as to what had happened to change the plans for the next year. But there was hope; I was probably going to continue to help the new directors plan for the next year. I decided then  that I would just suck it up and be happy to remain involved in whatever way I could.

This past week, I tried to approach the past director in order to figure out what had happened with the decision. I would have left it alone, but I had heard absolutely nothing from anyone about plans for the program, despite their assurances that I would stay involved, and it was really weighing on my mind. I didn’t really get any answers at all, and what she didn’t say said more than what she did. It’s hard not to think that the decision to pass the program on to others was a personal one, possibly based on my own lack of faith. But no matter what the reason was, I’m now left with a dilemma. Do I attend the program this summer, even as just a volunteer, after being seemingly intentionally left out?

I’m faced now with the impossible task of maybe trying to move on. For the past five years, that program has been my life. I looked forward to that week in the summer for months. Some of my best friends are volunteers and people who attended the program. My wall is plastered with countless photos from those weeks. I had already planned, almost in full, what was going to happen with the program when I took over. Part of me cannot imagine not being involved with the program, but another part can’t imagine going back to it after everything that has happened. It feels like all that has been tainted now, and I have trouble looking back on those five years without some cynicism and unhappiness. I don’t know what to do. Go, and maybe suffer the awkwardness of serving under people who decided not to involved me, and maybe have that affect the mood of the week, or don’t go and try to move on to new ventures, no matter how difficult that may be?

How do you move on from something like this? How do you just leave all of these people who you’ve grown to love over the years, and who you cannot imagine not seeing on a regular basis? How do you go on knowing that there will be people there at the program this coming summer expecting to see you, and being disappointed that you’re not there? How can you let them down like that? But, at the same time, how to do put on a fake smile and try to continue working with the program, and with people who have made it clear that they do not want you involved in any sort of leadership? How do you try to ignore the fact that the reason you were passed over was probably because of personal matters? It’s an impossible decision, but one I’ll have to be making soon.

I just don’t know what to do at this point. I know that if I am not involved with the program, I’ll find something else to do, some other sort of worthwhile volunteer work. But I’ll probably never stop thinking about what happened. I only hope that I’ll be able to get over what’s happened enough that I can look back at those five years and look at all of my photos and feel nothing but happiness for the fact that they happened. We’ll just have to see. Cheers.