Death (dun dun dun)

February 2, 2010 at 5:38 am Leave a comment

I’m taking this course called “Death and dying” at Temple U (yes, they did totally nab the title from Elisabeth Kübler-Ross.) Anyway, for that class I had to write a short paper about my own feelings and ideas about death. I figured I’d throw that up here since I am trying to be all unguarded and all nowadays. ITs kind of ramble-y and the grammar is atrocious. I apologize.

The photos I’ve tossed in are from the trip I took with my mom to Crystal caves in PA, I just think they’re pretty.

When faced with the unbelievably enormous question of “What is death” I usually find myself immediately regressing to blind faith. The Idea that if I say the right things and repeating the same motions day after day and year after year will somehow enable me to live on consciously through death. Unfortunately as a functioning adult, I cannot accept or be comforted by that idea. I fear death. I honestly am terrified of losing my self (insomuch as my mind is myself.)  For a long while I would pretend that I did not fear death, I modeled my behavior off of action movie heroes who walked willingly in to the face of their own destruction with a smile on their face and some cliché sentiment or another about “finally being able to get some sleep.” The difference, I realize now is that it was not the fearlessness, but the attitude that there was nothing left in the world that would surprise them which I wanted to emulate. I am afraid that I will die wanting to know something, or on the edge of some great discovery. Every day I have to reconcile myself with the fact that no matter how many books I read, how many adventures I go on, I will never know everything there is to know and that I will die without having any of my questions truly answered.

I used to find some solace in the Idea of reincarnation; I selfishly clung to the hope that I would still get to be me, just me in a different body. Unfortunately I was faced with a conundrum. If our actions and memories are what make us who we are how could we possibly be who we actually are, once wiped clean of our memories and placed in a new form. I spent much of my youth bouncing around from different ideas about death, but there was always this constant nagging fear in the back of my skull. I sometimes would not sleep at night, fearing that in my relaxed state I would forget to breathe and suffocate. I recently have been fascinated with the theory that memory is stored in Alu elements in the DNA (via RNA directed repair pathways.) Though I think this taps in to the same basic need that reincarnation did, in that I can believe that my memories (that which very possibly defines me as a person) will simply be shuffled around in my offspring and, in a slightly abstract way I would get to live forever (slightly unrelated: I think it is such a cool idea that our DNA could store the memories of our great great great grandparents.)

I do not know about an afterlife. I was not taught about one as a child, and I have a hard time reconciling the concept now. I do have hope though. We do not know what exactly it is that makes us sentient, in my moments of fear and anxiety about death I can at least rationalize that we know virtually nothing of how we truly function and that maybe somehow there is a way to keep on going after you die. All of this comes from nothing more noble than fear. It is the same reason that I have not let go of religion, despite my understanding of science. I do not know either about where we are before we are born. I wonder though, on a purely biological level, when do we become aware of ourselves as a sentient life form, when do our inner monologues start? (And by monologues, I don’t necessarily mean word-based monologues, more like when we start to string complex emotions together in response to exterior events.) I often wish that I had the rabid faith in one story or another that many people seem to have. Then, even if I were wrong I still wouldn’t have to worry about what happens when we die. Unfortunately I do not know. I think that is the root of the problem. The fact that we cannot know what happens, the very act of dying keeps us from explaining any of the post-death experience (if there is any) to those left back on earth.

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Entry filed under: Adventures, Rambling, Wall Of Text.

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