Reflecting on Death//May 2018

 

The following started as an attempt on writing a more analytical evaluation of “death”, and how our attitudes towards death affects how we view the meaning of life. 

The reality is it was overwhelming for me to do in a short essay. Death is immensely complicated. Perhaps more accurately, it seems like our attitudes towards death is complicated. So I scrapped that for now and wanted to start from my own experiences first, reflect a bit on how death affected my thinking about my life. Blog is a good place to output that.

How do you see life when you know you’re going to die?

A Story

I’ll never forget the day one of my closest friends and I ran through our community college campus to find the ambulance that would wheel away a student who had fainted in class. 

We were in anatomy class. On this day we had a dissection presentation by the professor using that semester’s human cadaver. 

Everyone showed up that day. He directed us to move to the back of the classroom, next to the storage facility. My professor wheeled in a covered cadaver cart. There was an odd tension in the room. To call it anticipation would seem insensitive, but there was an awareness we were about to confront something unknown. For the majority of us this would be the first time seeing a dead body in person. 

Our professor spent some time reminding us to be respectful…there would be no photography or videography allowed…Remember this was once a living person…His last wish was to be donated for the purposes of education…we should all respect that. 

He looked around, seeing we were all quiet and focused, he was satisfied his point was received and uncovered the cart. 

Male, in his 40’s, died of heart complications. 

I was positioned near the cadavers face. He had died relatively recently. He was in good shape, at least as a cadaver. It was a surreal moment. If you just looked at his face, he didn’t look as though he were dead. My mom-who went through medical school in Poland-would tell me stories about old bodies they would have to dissect for her human anatomy course. This was not like that. Our cadaver had been preserved pretty quickly after his death. Other than his pale and blueish appearance he looked as though he were asleep. In this way, it was an artificial presentation of death. Medicinal/academic, fascinating, and humbling.

Our professor let us take everything in for a few minutes, but not enough to linger or enter into any ridiculous personal crisis. The anatomy class that was a step above us began the dissection on the leg. It was a very small section exposing muscle tissue. Our professor drew our attention there and we got to it. He discussed the process of human cadaver dissection, while with his gloved hands he gently pulled and pointed out the muscles and nerves that had been exposed.  

We were all extremely focused. And then…

My professor hooked one of the muscles with his fingers when in the corner of my eye I saw movement and what at the time was a startlingly loud thunk. Classmate had passed out. He hit his head pretty hard so we called the paramedics. Realizing they might have a hard time finding where we were, my friend and I began our sprint through the halls of the science building. 

So ended our presentation.

Shortly after everything had settled with what we called the “ER moment”, my friend and I began laughing.

Reflecting 

Though it was sterilized medicinal experience it was a humbling experience. This was one of the many moments that I believe bonded my friend and I. Being confronted with death, being called into action (it was a bit dramatic but we had confronted a dead body). 

As I would soon discover, it put other deaths into perspective. Shortly after, another professor of ours who had a significant impact on me committed suicide. I believe because of my human anatomy experience, I had a profound reaction to it. I knew he was now a body, with no consciousness in it. 

Incidentally, I also have a profound interest in the nature of the universe so I spend a lot of my evenings looking into the night sky, trying to comprehend the seeming infinite and perplexed that we don’t even understand time. That we are here right now seems awesome (in the most profound sense of the word).

Seeing how fragile the light of consciousness was, death had a profound finality to it. To chose to end that light was a heavy decision. I felt a deep sadness that he needed to make that choice, but profound respect that he had chosen that. I still don’t have the words to quite describe what I mean here succinctly, 

From then on, as it goes, death and close calls of loved ones has brushed it’s echoes in my life. Suicide, cancer, heart attack, old age, unknowns…reminding me when I’m most reckless, of both the resiliency and fragility of our own mind and body. Life is very temporary. 

However one thinks of death, whether we continue on or not, many of us can agree that we know our existence ends in some way. 

What this has all meant for me is I’m not sure if there is a meaning to life, whatever that may mean. But when I look at the cosmos and reflect on how strange life is in the cosmic background, how horrible we can make it for each other and how wonderful it can be, I can’t help but feel gratitude that I am here even if there is no “reason” for it. 

I’m not afraid to live life as vulnerably as I can. I love learning the lessons life has to offer. I think the greatest lesson death taught me was to respect my time and to love more openly. I admit when I love someone close to me now. I keep a small circle around me  I love my friends and family. Life is incredibly complex and tough, so I want to make sure they know that they have love. 

Moreover, the Earth and the life we can have here is pretty cool. One day, I won’t be part of it and won’t have the ability to live to work towards that potential. Even if none of this has a reason to it, I want to contribute to making it an amazing experience for us all. The world can be an ugly place. People can do horrible things to one another, but I’d like to make it so that more of us-all of us-can live a happy life. 

This will be an ongoing attempt at clarifying my own thoughts about my own experiences. Additionally, my experiences and how I reflect on them are not generalizable. Still overwhelming to think of trying to do an analysis of death as a whole.

So, TLDR (though you would’ve by now) version is I don’t know what to make of death and life, but I know-that with what it is that I do know-I’m going to try my best to make the most of what I have.

Moreover, there’s a lot of delicious salsas out there to try.

Los Angeles//July 2016

“Harry, there is never a perfect answer in this messy, emotional world. Perfection is beyond the reach of humankind, beyond the reach of magic. In every shining moment of happiness is that drop of poison: the knowledge that pain will come again. Be honest to those you love, show your pain. To suffer is as human as to breathe.” -Dumbledore