I amused myself once with the thought that I would end my autobiography with those words. It seemed silly and therefore funny to me that we read every story wondering how it will end, when in fact, we already know. Everyone dies. That’s how it ends. Fiction or non-fiction, adventure or romance, the characters all die in the end. At least they’re supposed to.
Historically, literature reflects a cultural addiction to creatures who don’t die. I’m never going to embrace vampires and zombies. Dead things that eat me are disgusting, actually anything that eats me is – I’m not wildly keen on giant snakes either. But I can’t help observing this interesting parallel. As long as I can remember, I’ve had rational adults telling me that my soul can achieve immortality through the worship of a risen corpse.
Irony aside, what do we see in the face of death that causes this need to avoid it? Most of us have a horror instilled in us from a very early age. It probably begins with the alarm in our mother’s voice the first time we step out into a street without looking. In short time, we all face some picture of mortality that wears a black cloak, carries a scythe and whose face is too frightening to look upon. It makes a certain sense. Death is indeed the one experience we must all share, and so the image of it chasing or haunting us seems fitting.
Death, however, does not chase us. It is we who chase death. We race toward it every moment of our lives and poor death has no hope whatsoever of escaping us. And so then shouldn’t it be perceived as a glorious achievement when we finally capture it? Perhaps the face of death should be garnished in garlands, and radiantly beautiful; our tombstones polished trophies boasting of our success.
Humor offers escape, and many of us laugh at death. Shakespeare gave us these words of solemn reflection in Hamlet’s famous scene, “Here hung those lips that I have kissed I know not how oft.” I laughed when I heard that. Of course I was the only one in the theater who did, but I couldn’t help myself. I pictured poor Yorick’s drooping lips hanging rotted from his skull, and the thought of Hamlet oft kissing them was pretty funny. I couldn’t kiss Kyle after the play, not for the image, but for the fits of giggles I didn’t want to explain.
Seriously though, the realization that I come to when I look into the face of death, is that whether or not I embrace the cults or the religions of immortality, I seek immortality and perhaps we all do. I’ve written more than once that my greatest dream is for my words to live on after I’ve died; to dance on my grave as I wrote in one post. Each word that I type brings me one word closer to, “…and then I died,” and so each word I type brings me one word closer to my dream.
Ultimately, each of us looks into the face of death and comes to terms with it in one way or another. We have to. If we don’t, we live in fear of that black-cloaked guy, and how can that be considered living? It doesn’t matter whether we are going to live a hundred years or die tomorrow. Whether it’s to travel the world, or to jump from high places, or to curl up with a good book, or to sit down to write one, everything we do, we do in the face of death. It’s only in the face of death, we can find the courage to live.
© 2013 Anne Schilde