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Dissertation on Death
From as far back in my memory as 6 or 7 years old, I’ve had a strange fascination with what death was going to be like. Today, a decade later, and I still can’t quite place why I was so interested with death and dying at such a young age. At that age I don’t believe I shared these thoughts with anyone, mainly because I didn’t understand them myself, but also because I had an innate feeling that these thoughts weren’t for kids my age. Thinking back now, I can indeed pinpoint my earliest memory of having such thoughts.
I don’t really remember what season it was all too well, but for whatever reason I have a vague recognition that it was summer. As I said, I was roughly 7, and at this point in my life, I had bunk beds with my younger sister. On this day, I remember waking up to the sound of voices coming from my kitchen, which was located directly next to my bedroom. The conversation in the kitchen however, was not a particularly happy one, so I decided to stay under the comfort of my blankets and simply listen to the dialogue. My sister, who was even younger than I was, was tearfully expressing her distress to my mother that she didn’t ever want to die. In the background, a news program was on, detailing a horrendous accident, and the fatalities involved, which I surmise brought on the conversation. My mother calmly explained that she shouldn’t worry about dying, that she was only a kid, and generally handling the situation as she should. My sister calmed down, and things were once again peaceful. I however, was distressed by what had transpired, and distinctly recall calling out an “I love you,” to my mother from my bunk, and then proceeded to hold back the tears in my eyes.
At this young age, I was naturally afraid of dying because I didn’t understand it, and I didn’t want everything to be over. However, this event above sparked the subject in my mind, and I began to ponder what death really was, and why we all had to die. As strange as it sounds, sitting in the food court of the mall with my mother and grandmother at the age of 10 or 11, I remember staring off into space and wondering what we were all really doing on earth, how everything was established, and what happened when we died. When my mother noticed that I was silent and focused on staring at my Happy Meal intently, she literally asked if I was thinking about the meaning of life. It was meant as a joke, but little did she know that I indeed was. Again, I felt that admitting that was wrong and embarrassing for some reason, and I sheepishly made up an excuse for my silent behavior.
Over the years my feelings on death and what happens when you die have changed. This is to be expected, as one grows and matures, and forms their own opinions regarding the ways of the world. The deaths of loved ones have shaped these feelings, as well as other factors, and for some reason I feel the need to share my sentiments over the years with you.
From my early childhood to about 6th or 7th grade, I assumed that when you died, you went to Heaven. This was mainly due to my naivety, and my childish hope that everything was going to remain peachy, even in death. During this time period, I also experienced a few deaths within my own family, including my Aunt Rose, who to this day I miss more than anything. As a young grieving adolescent, I couldn’t bring myself to even entertain the idea of her being sent anywhere but Heaven, and it was then when I began to think what it would be like to meet her again one day. Late 7th grade arrived however, and my sentiments began to shift. I still believed in a Heaven, but the concept of Hell was also a possibility I began to see. I was a rebellious, (albeit as rebellious as any 7th grade trying out the waters of pre teen years was) which made me begin to think that I may indeed go to Hell for my sins. They were clearly petty and foolish things, but to me at that age, they were major failings. This included excessive swearing, but that’s related to my mental illness, and is a topic for another time. These traditional thoughts on death continued up until 10th grade, when my sentiments on religion began to shift. Although I was no longer an enormous believer in organized religion, I felt that one was still judged when they died, in one way or another, and was sent to Heaven or Hell. I suppose this is rather contradictory considering I didn’t have faith in the existence of a God, but it was how I felt at the time. My sins by sophomore year had increased, and so had the significance level of these sins. In my mind, I didn’t really care whether or not I went to Hell, because frankly I didn’t really know if there was any merit in believing in God and the church anymore, and was happier sinning and not worrying about the consequences. I still felt others would go to Heaven; I just wasn’t concerned with getting there myself.
As you can see, my views regarding death and the likes of it were very simplistic for a great deal of time. I maintained mentally that this was what happened, and didn’t do a great deal of thinking about any other possibilities. However, at the age of 16, in the 11th grade, I have changed my mind. Why the change? What’s the point of this entire dissertation you may ask? Well according to various billboards and other media outlets, tomorrow the world is supposed to end. There is an enormous amount of hype surrounding this alleged event, and although I have very little faith in this actually occurring, (who knows honestly) I began to question once again what it was like to die, and what exactly happens following death. So, sitting at my computer at 2 in the morning, I would like to explain how I feel as best as I can. I hope it makes sense, although I have a feeling that many will not understand or accept what I have to say. But such is life.
I do still vaguely believe in a God. Im no longer a huge supporter of organized religion, and I feel that one should believe in what they want, with no huge rules and regulations of the church or the likes of it to alter your faith. As a result, I no longer think that there is a Heaven and a Hell. I believe that death is not something that we should fear, or have to spend our lives preparing for to meet God, or fear that we’re not going to meet his standards and be condemned to Hell. I do not however, think that there is nothing after our time on earth is over. I suppose this means that I am not indeed an atheist, but I digress. In my mind, (and my mind alone, make your own judgments) I picture death to be peaceful. No matter how you end up dying, I believe that death is peaceful, merely a warm comfortable blanket being wrapped around you. No big bright light, no grim reaper to beckon you with his sheath, just a feeling of calmness and the assurance that there’s nothing to be afraid of. My idea of the afterlife has altered as I mentioned too. I believe that because life is difficult and has its ups and downs, that death will almost be easy, if you will. I feel that after one dies, they enter a state of happiness, whatever that may be for them. Not another world, where there are no rules and regulations, but simply a state of pure happiness and peace for the individual. This is hard to describe in words because in all honestly, happiness cannot be defined in words. It is whatever makes you feel the best and most at peace with everything, and is more of a state of mind than actually “being happy.” Some may say that this sounds like Heaven, that you go to a place of permanent joy and love. No. To me, the afterlife is not a physical place like the Disney land like Heaven that is constantly referenced, where St. Peter checks your ticket at the gates, and makes sure you aren’t working for the rival amusement park (Hell). I may be joking, but truthfully this is how I feel, that the concepts of Heaven and Hell have been commercialized. I cannot help but think that this is wrong, and that we need to get away from that concept, but I digress. However you must think of it personally in your mind, I feel that after death one enters a mental state of pure happiness and serenity, similar to an ongoing dream, as if the dream was a state of being.
But what about Hell you must ask? Does everyone deserve to be happy in the afterlife? The latter is a question that no one truly knows the answer to. On a personal level, (again judge me if you choose) I feel that every single individual deserves to be happy. What they choose to do in life to alter the way their life pans out is their personal decision however, and often their actions cause others to judge them and decide whether or not they also deserve to be happy in death. This is the case with many commonplace humans, as well as those whose actions are well known to the world, stereotypically such as Adolf Hitler. Should Hitler be punished for his erroneous sins against the world? The answer that immediately comes to my mind is yes, yet as a non believer in the text book definition of Hell, how should this be enacted? I believe that because he caused such an enormous amount of pain and suffering, that Hitler and individuals like Hitler will suffer in one way or another. Whether this be after death, or during life in subtle ways, no one can be sure of, but I do believe that justice was done for all of the suffering that he caused.
This brings me to another point I would like to make. Life is difficult, and at times it is genuinely miserable. For this reason, I’m compelled to say that we pay for our sins here on earth, rather than in the afterlife, as is commonly believed. Something similar to karma I suppose, I feel that the good and the bad in our lives even out, and that in the end we all deserve a peaceful death. No one really knows if we even pay for the wrong we do, and as a result I maintain that death is not something we need to fear, in our last hours fretting whether or not a spiteful word to an ex boyfriend many years ago will keep us from post life happiness.
Finally, I must exlain there was a time in my life when I did desire to die. It’s a time not that long ago, but I have overcome these demons. When I was feeling desperate, and unable to stand the course my life was taking, I was comforted by the thought of dying, and the pleasant calm release I believe it will hold. These notions were so strong in my mind at these times that I would feel immense relief by reminding myself that none of this (problems I was having) mattered, because I could simply choose to die at any point, and everything would be alright. I’m fully aware that this is a rather twisted thought process, and even in my darkest hours I never once attempted suicide, it was simply the idea that I had the capabilities to die if need be that was comforting These emotions have abated, and I no longer desire to take my own life, or even to die. Mentally, however, I would outline my suicide note, going over it thousands of times, changing and adding to it constantly. The note was thorough, and was actually more of a suicide packet as terrible as that sounds. Pages and pages of address to the people in my life, stating how I really felt about them and saying what needed to be said, the good and the bad, to those I loved and those I despised. I never once sat down and began to type it out. Moreover, in the late hours of the night when I would envision my death, (me curled up on my bed, in the dark, closing my eyes to the world with blood seeping into my pillow, or taking my final step off a bridge) I would picture death as more of a sleep than anything else. A long, undisturbed, and peaceful sleep. This is not my current view on death, as previously stated, but I do have an idea as to why I viewed death as a long sleep: because I was tired. Yes, an extraordinarily plain explanation, but a valid one; I was tired of life. Every force in my life was exhausting me mentally, and I was too fatigued with putting a game face on every day to go on, and therefore simply wanted to be done with everything and sleep. I was indeed depressed during this period of my life, and can also say the feelings of depression may have attributed to my desire to sleep. Finally, as I said, I am no longer depressed, and I do not wish to take my own life. This period, although a trying one, has shaped me as a person, including my views on death, and I do not regret experiencing what I did.
I hope this was not too morbid, nor boring, but I needed to explain my feelings. They are solely my own, and I do not expect them to be widely accepted, and everyone is free to judge. As I finally go to sleep now at 430 in the morning, I am not afraid of the alleged impending apocalypse. Whether or not the end of the world is tomorrow, I have no qualms with dying. I am not afraid of death in the slightest, and I feel that I have a rather decent understanding of it, at least in my own mind. Death will come one day to all, and we must accept that. I will end with my favorite soliloquy, from the famous William Shakespeare in Macbeth.
“Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time; And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle! Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing.” (Act V Scene v)