Bad Ideas, Community, Cultural Traits, Culture, Death, Dying, Ethics, Human Nature, Ideas, John McCain, Life, Meaning, Morality, Morals, News and Current Events, Obligations to Society, Politics, Society, Values

“Speak No Ill of the Dead”

(About a 3 minute read)

The recent death and funeral of John McCain has once again raised a debate about the propriety of speaking ill of the dead.  Naturally, the loudest voices have belonged to partisan pundits who can be expected to flip their opinions — pro and con — when the next prominent Democrat dies.

But I think a lot of common people are concerned with the issue too.  How fair is it to criticize the dead?  If it’s fair at all, then does our criticism have limits?  And if so, what should those limits be?

Continue reading ““Speak No Ill of the Dead””

Allies, Attachment, Consciousness, Death, Dying, Enlightenment, Fear, Friends, Human Nature, Impermance, Life, Living, Lovers, Meaning, Meditation, Mysticism, Quality of Life, Relationships, Religion, Satori, Self, Self Identity, Self Image, Self-Integration, Self-Knowledge, Spirituality, Transformative Experience

The Fear of Death and Dying

Disclaimer: The following opinions are my own — I am usually wrong about most things — and so you should examine these issues for yourself. On the other hand, only a boring, bumbling, berkle-snozer would disagree with me about anything.​

(About a 5 minute read)

It is my esteemed and noble opinion that the fear of death is a major factor in how folks experience life, and a major motive behind much of human behavior.

How much of a factor and motive, you might ask? Ernest Becker, the psychiatrist who authored, The Denial of Death, thought it unconsciously drove most of human experience and behavior. And here the word “unconsciously” is key to understanding the fear of death.

I do not agree with all of Becker’s ideas, but I am in complete agreement with him about the fear of death being very largely a hidden, unconscious fear. Ask ten people if they fear death, eight or nine will not be aware of themselves fearing it.

Continue reading “The Fear of Death and Dying”

Courage, Dying, Fun, Gratitude, Honesty, Human Nature, Impermance, Life, Play, Quality of Life, Spirituality, Wisdom

Cheryl: Skipping Like a Child Into Her Night

(About a 7 minute read)

I worked after hours when I was in high school in a funeral home owned by perhaps the kindest and most compassionate man in town — in a town with a decent number of kind and compassionate men and women.

In addition to both his kindness and his compassion, H.P (for Herbert Paul) combined a matter-of-fact realism about death with an easy going attitude towards it.  For instance, he had a number of gentle — but wholly appropriate — jokes that he was apt to tell to the families at visitations in order to soften their grief.

Continue reading “Cheryl: Skipping Like a Child Into Her Night”

Dying, Family, Friends, Love, Meaning, People, Poetry, Quotes, Relationships, Self

“Perfection Wasted” by John Updike

And another regrettable thing about death
is the ceasing of your own brand of magic,
which took a whole life to develop and market –
the quips, the witticisms, the slant
adjusted to a few, those loved ones nearest
the lip of the stage, their soft faces blanched
in the footlight glow, their laughter close to tears,
their tears confused with their diamond earrings,
their warm pooled breath in and out with your heartbeat,
their response and your performance twinned.
The jokes over the phone. The memories packed
in the rapid-access file. The whole act.
Who will do it again? That’s it: no one
imitators and descendants aren’t the same.

John Updike

Authenticity, Dying, Television

Reality TV

I sometimes wonder about the attraction of  Reality TV.   Specifically, about all the death and dying on Reality TV.

I was asked this morning whether I had ever seen a person die, and the question stirred some memories.  Long ago, during high school, I worked part time in a funeral home.  In that job, I became familiar with the aftermath of dying, but I did not witness someone actually dying until a few short years later.

That happened after I started working as a fire fighter to pay my way through college. One night, around two in the morning, we rolled on a car accident in which a man had gotten drunk and flown off a country road at close to 100 miles an hour.  That is, his car somehow became air born, left the road, and then hit a walnut tree four or so feet up its trunk.  In all the confused bouncing around, the man got thrown from his car — then the car bounced back to freakishly land right on top of him.  He was two hours dying.

I didn’t know him, but I was almost crying by the time he was dead; more in frustration than in sorrow.  We — my crew — were trying so hard to save him.

My dreams were profoundly disturbed for three nights following his death. I later found out that always would be the case: After witnessing someone broken and dying, my dreams would be extremely vivid, yet colorless: darkness stirred into troubled waters  for — usually — the next three nights.

Once, a couple years after that first accident, I happened to compare notes with two other fire fighters, and we discovered it was the same for all three of us: Our dreams were almost always dark and disturbing for the next three nights.

I don’t recall having those dreams following when someone was already dead by the time we got to the scene. But I recall they were all but inevitable after a dying.  I don’t know, though, whether such dreams were  just the case for the three of us, or whether dreams like those are much more common.

After that first night, I almost incidentally lost any interest in watching Reality TV.  It seemed to me that reality as seen through a TV camera was somehow “cheaper” — in most every sense of that word — than being there.  And I’m not entirely sure how to express this, but perhaps on some level I preferred someone’s dying should not feel cheap to me.

Beauty, Consciousness, Dying, Emotions, Meaning, Quality of Life, Self, Spirituality, Thinking

Some Early Morning Thoughts in November

Late yesterday, a young, unusually pretty woman — I would guess a college student — took out a lease on the apartment across the hall from me.   I briefly met her and she seemed pleasant and outgoing.

That was several hours ago.  Besides thinking she’ll probably make an OK next door neighbor, I’ve been busy with other matters — including catching some sleep — until just now, when it popped into my head: “Her youth and beauty reminds me I’m growing old.”

Yet, that kind of thought is not so strange anymore.

About the time I turned 50, which was almost four years ago, my mortality started to become more real to me.  Part of that new and improved sense of mortality has been that I find more and different things remind me of it.

I have been surprised, however, to discover I am not disturbed by this keener sense of a coming end.  I always thought I would be disturbed to become increasingly aware of my mortality as I grew older.  Yet, so far at least, I am far more curious about my mortality than I am upset with it.

Perhaps that will change.  It will be interesting to see if it does.

Suddenly, I wonder what my new neighbor would think if I told her she reminds me of death?

I reckon I’d better keep that thought to myself.

Art, Dying, Emotions, Faisal, Health, Islam, Late Night Thoughts, Meaning, People, Philosophy, Religion, Values, Wisdom

How Should A Person Handle An End To His Life?

Faisal is a student in Malaysia who you might know from his occasional comments on this blog.  He’s a creative thinker with a philosophical bent, and the other day, he and I were enjoying an internet chat when he asked, “What would you do, Paul, if you discovered you only had 24 hours to live?”

I mulled over the idea a bit before recalling I had practically answered the question a few years ago. That is, a few years ago, I thought I could be having heart problems.  Consequently, I suddenly had to entertain the notion I might not be around much longer to continue inflicting my insufferable opinions on the world.  So, I had made some quick decisions how I might best handle whatever time was left.  Here’s what happened:

As I was walking to my therapist that morning, I noticed some mild pains in my chest and arms.  I was clueless the pains might mean something, but I conversationally mentioned them to my therapist, Arun.  Arun urged me to go home and call the hospital.  So I went home, called, and was put through to a nurse who told me to immediately get an ambulance and come in.

At that point, I thought for a minute and realized most of the time spent in a hospital is spent waiting.   So, I got out my backpack, put a few art supplies in it — and then, because it might be my last day, I put in a couple of my father’s 2B drawing pencils that I’d inherited from him and had saved for something special.  I confess I’d allowed the nurse to alarm me.

Yet, despite the nurse, an ambulance struck me as unnecessary because the pain was so mild, and because I live within walking distance of the hospital.  So it wasn’t long before I was in the hospital, in bed, and predictably waiting for the doctor to come back with the results of all 425 tests he’d ordered done on me.   Of course, that’s when I got out my art supplies and got to work.  Their use was an immediate comfort to me.

Now, when I told Faisal of my false alarm that day, my story reminded him of a fascinating bit of advice offered by the Prophet Muhammad.  The Prophet said, if a person is in his fields, planting his crop, when the world begins fading away on the Day of Judgment, then that person should nevertheless proceed to plant what is already in his hands to plant.  Perhaps, the Prophet was reflecting on how a person should handle an end to his life.

Faisal and I then got to discussing why it might be a good idea to continue in your way right up to the end. We didn’t find any easy way of expressing our thoughts about it though.  It seems to be one of those very difficult things to articulate.  I recall, however, when I went to the hospital with my art supplies that day, I was simply doing what I felt and thought I needed to do at that moment to reconcile my heart and mind and bring them into harmony.  But that’s all I know.  I have no elaborate philosophy about how one should handle an end to his life.