Musings on death that wax poetic from an atheistic/non-spiritual perspective.
By Christian Powers
An essay on dying inspired by Thanotopsis, a poem by William Cullen Bryant.
When thoughts of the last bitter hour come like a blight over your spirit, and sad images of a harsh agony, and the shroud of breathless darkness in a narrow hole grip you, and cause you to shudder or grow sick at heart, go forth under the open sky, and listen calmly to nature's teachings. All around you from the Earth, and her waters, and the depths of the air comes a still voice:
Yet too few days are yours, and the all-beholding sun, in its eternal course, shall behold you no more. Nor will the wind of this world caress you. Nor will the cold ground know you, even where, with many tears, your pale form will be laid. Nor in the embrace of the ocean shall your image be found. What had been you shall mix forever with the elements returning from whence it came, to be kindred with the insensible rock, the shifting dirt, and the oozing sludge.
Nature's first lesson: "Oblivion is natural"
What is wrong with oblivion? Gone from the world, absent from life, and unable to contemplate your surroundings is your natural state. Life is the aberration. Life is the unnatural state of being.
You have an eternity of non-existence behind you. In the times of the Pharaohs you and all your loved ones mixed with the elements, yet you did not seem to mind. Even now you don't care. Shouldn't you fear the eternity of oblivion behind you as much as the one ahead? Where is that fear? Never having existed before is just as bleak as never existing again. Why don't you care about being nothing more than the sluggish clod of dirt tilled by a farmer in ages past? When you are in that state once again, I assure you, it will be the same as it was before. There will be no fear, no regret and no pain, and the universe will once again be as it should be for you, an eternity of oblivion.
Nature's second lesson: "Life is a victory"
Death is part of life. All things alive must die and that is the way it should be. Dreams that stretch on too long become nightmares. Winter interrupts summer, and the coming summer is more beautiful because of it. Flowers bloom to fertilize seed and whither to nourish the soil, while father's leave all they possess to their sons.
Life is a cycle, a machine that cheats oblivion. Yes, it returns the failing parts back to lifeless matter, but it remains defiant. With every newborn babe the triumphant voice of nature can be heard as it shouts, "AGAIN!"
Nature's third lesson: "You are not alone"
You shall not retire to oblivion alone. All in different ways and at different times, we take this journey together. You shall lie down with kings, wise men, artists, starlets, harlots and brigands. Patriarchs, nobles, peasants, lovers and friends all through the ages have led the way, and the road you must take is well traveled. Before you, with you and after you there is a great caravan of company, lining its way into the grave where everyone claims a chamber, together, in the silent halls of death.
All who breathe share in this destiny.
So live without fear of your natural state, and when you are summoned to join that great parade into oblivion, go not like a prisoner to punishment, in dismal trepidation.
Do not fear or despair for yourself.
Know that all of your desires will vanish, and all of your sufferings, even those of the heart, will, at last, be attended. For there is no desire in oblivion, and, more importantly, not even the slightest pang of regret shall be felt in all the vastness of your eternal slumber.
Instead, if you must cry, then weep for the living. Spend your tears for the innocent, the wretched, the ignorant, and all those you know and remember, for you were among them and it is over.
Despite your sadness, for farewells are always sad, try to be comforted by the natural way of things. Share in the most common of human experiences by finishing it the best way you know how, the way you would choose to finish it.
Remember how your life was a victory over the darkness, a brief deviation from your natural state, and try to die grateful for having lived.