Saturday, June 4, 2011

Magical thinking about end of life

Few things inspire more fear and fascination than death. Arguably religions were invented in ancient times to provide fanciful and elaborate answers for people's insatiable questions surrounding death. These days, however, death is not quite as mysterious. People like the now late Dr. Kevorkian, in part, helped the world to understand that death is not as mysterious, and magical as people might think or fondly wish it to be. It is a brute mechanical fact about how our biological systems work. No system works forever. There is no reason to think that there is a magical land for broken human bodies any more than there is a magical land for broken cars or computers.

Of course, this offends the wish and desires of people who would rather that reality be otherwise. They find more comfort in invisible, undetectable entities like spirits that go to invisible, undetectable places like heaven where they can sit on clouds and play harps. Most of us gave up that kind of fantasy when we left childhood. Most adults, especially in their later years, have acquired enough wisdom to know reality from nonsense, and that is why many old people do not fear death, even if it is the end. Some, like Kevorkian's patients, saw through the ridiculous myths and lies made up by ancient scribes, and sought to take control of their own biologies. Thank you, Jack, for helping people understand that death is not some magical place of candy, and rainbows, and a big family reunion. It is just when our machine stops and our hamster falls off our wheel.

That is not to say that we invite it. Most of us enjoy letting our hamsters run on our wheels as much as they would like. However, all must end and life is not obligatory. The best person to decide how to proceed with your life is you, and lacking compelling reasons, that is how it works most everywhere. After all, it turns out that, even if we wanted to it is too much work to try to run other people's live for them. So, by default, unless there are serious threats to the rest of us, modern society says, go for it. Do what you gotta do. Life is short enough anyway without other busybodies trying to slow you down. If life is not what you want it to be then that is largely up to you to figure out how to change. Most of us find plenty in life worth living. However, in the final analysis there is nothing magical about life or its absence. There are no guarantees, and anyone who tries to sell you one, via religion, politics, or late-night info-mercial, is probably not on the level. Once you stop believing that things have to be magical, and wonderful, and secretly different than they appear, you might just have the time to actually live your life, in peace, and freedom, on your own terms.

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