Life can be overwhelming but is escaping life's trails the answer?
“To be, or not to be, that is the question…” And, oh, what a question it is. The question is asked by one of the most enduring and endearing characters of English literature, the young and enigmatic Prince of Denmark, Hamlet. It is true that many find the young Hamlet’s soliloquies hard to understand. However, those words which occupy us at the moment seem without impediment. Most succinctly stated, is it good that we live or die? Considering all that we are prone to suffer in this world, might not death be a welcomed rest from those pursuant ills? This, we will consider. * A note here is important. It has been said that Hamlet is not considering life or death with his opening words. He is rather considering what kind of life (being) a man will live. However, just for argument sake, we will view from the perspective of life or death.
To begin, Hamlet asks “Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, Or to take up arms against a sea of troubles And by opposing end them…” And then he immediately speaks of death. This insertion of the subject of death is between two descriptions of the pains and sorrows of living in this present world. Our young Hamlet did well to speak of the difficulties of this life, for the subject is one in which all wise men should engage with much thought. How could such considerations be ignored as the joints are pained and the hoary head emerges? And, though it is a subject of thought which men seek to avoid at any cost, we are compelled to consider the magnitude of such an unavoidable fact, that all men will depart this world by the vehicle of death. And so it is, that after the recent death of his beloved father, Hamlet cast the net of his mind on the numerous considerations of life and death.
While death is the ultimate end of all life, there is much to be borne while men still live. Hamlet has mentioned ‘The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’. He clearly notes ‘The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to’. To be certain, the idea of those sufferings and difficulties which cling to this present life are well understood by our young prince. He speaks of the ‘whips and scorns of time’, the grunting and sweating under a weary life’. To Hamlet, life is difficult as we make our way through a convoluted briar choked path. But then, as surely as we have considered the weight of these earthly woes, a natural question arises: what is a man to do?
Hamlet has considered this question and reaches what he believes many would see as a logical conclusion: death would be the chance for an escape from the tribulations of life. Hamlet says, ‘To die, to sleep; To sleep, perchance to dream.’ But then, Hamlet considers that there may well be a problem with this seeming solution. Death, he ponders, may not bring the solution that many believe. As Hamlet sees it, men must not lose their perspective with such weighty issues. All sides must be considered. It has been commented that Hamlet is not actually considering taking his own life. His primary thought does not focus on the act of suicide. This would make complete sense considering what he has learned about his father’s foul murder. Hamlet has no intention of dying. He has much business to attend to. His father must be avenged. However, let’s consider Hamlet’s words from a common perspective, not a metaphysical one.
If you were to ask any number of people about their thoughts on death and dying, you might be surprised at what people believe. There are those that believe that they and their’s are going to heaven when they die, but they would have doubts about many others that they know. Most people will remember the bank robbers and killers know as Bonnie and Clyde. On Bonnie’s grave marker, her family wrote something that ended in saying that “this old world is made better because of people like you” Can you possibly imagine that the world was a better place because of Bonnie’s contribution? Rattlesnakes make the world better because of their beauty and contribution to nature. Bonnie made the world a dangerous and heartbreaking place because of the evil she perpetrated and the people she murdered. And yet, her family surely maintains that she is enjoying eternal rest and peace. I chose to use that example to show how the perspective of some is terribly skewed. Of course, I do understand that people would say that that is my personal opinion. Another example would be those who believe that all dogs go to heaven, and people too. In the mind of these, there’s nothing to worry about. We are all headed to a glorious place when we die. The final example I will give concerns those who believe that death is an eternal sleep, howbeit, one without consciousness. It could be described as a winking out into nothingness. This is what Adolf Hitler believed. It would be much better for him if he was right. It may seem that we have left out one of the major beliefs in the world, that of a Heaven to seek and a Hell to fear. Billions of people believe in Heaven and Hell, although they would definitely disagree on how one ends up in one or the other.
And so, here we have Hamlet considering the many difficulties of life, and all the time wondering if death might be an escape from it all. But, he is far from convinced that death is that sweet release that many hope for. Hamlet says, “ But that the dread of something after death, The undiscovered country, from whose stream no traveler returns…” Well now, it seems that Hamlet has arrived at the crux of the matter. Our young prince has something to say to all of those who think that death is the ultimate escape from life’s heavy yoke. We will quicken to our death, they say, and throw off this burden forevermore. But, Hamlet, he is not so sure, and neither should we be.
As we have already noted, there are many people who see death as their escape from those intolerable conditions of their lives. Of those, there are innumerable thousands who have chosen to end their lives because of the crushing weight on mind and body. They saw no better solution but to flee this vail of constant tears. When you are about to pull the trigger, tighten the noose, or throwback that bottle of pills, you are hardly in the state of mind that would consider the intricacies of eternity.
To be sure, humans can get themselves into complicated and heart-wrenching situations. Sometimes there seems to be no way out, at least no earthly way. That is often the time when some choose the otherworldly way. However, we must again ask, is such a course of action logical?
No one needs to be reminded that death is final, there are no do-overs. Once you are dead you are dead forever. No one can say with certainty that they know what lies beyond that dark veil. Of course, you will always hear people speaking with complete confidence that they know where they are going when they die. Most often, such people are Christian believers who have faith in God that He is the one who will care for them and take them to be with Him when they die. They will say with surety that God gives them the faith to believe that their future is assured.
However, without trying to downplay anyone’s beliefs, one would be wise to consider the possibility that these beliefs may not be true. That being the case, our young Hamlet gives good advice. He considers whether it would not be more advisable to tough out our earthly difficulties, rather than seeking to fly to those that we know nothing of.
So, what is the answer? I can only say that reason would advise us to remain on this side of the veil as long as it is reasonable. Death may seem to be a quick way out, but it may take us to a place that we would rather not go, whether a questionable heaven or an abyss of nothingness, living seems the better choice.