Proof of Life within Death

The knowledge of imminent death must be far more difficult to endure than the knowledge of our own eventual death. We all know that we will definitely die one day. Some people, however, are told with certainty that they will die within a relatively short time period. For that short span of time they know that time isn’t just slipping away – it’s gushing down the drain of existence.

In 2009, my father died after a five month brush with cancer. Strictly speaking that’s not true. He obviously was afflicted by cancer for much longer than that, but he only knew about it for five months. And on the day he found out he had cancer, he also knew, with total certainty, that he would die very soon. His condition was irreversible and terminal. To think of it makes me shudder.

What must it be like? Can you imagine what that must feel like to know that you’re going to die soon? To rise each morning knowing that, within a few short months, you will no longer be getting up ever again, must be an horrendous thing to endure. And yet people do. Because here’s the thing – how many people, when told that they are going to die from a dreadful illness, commit suicide the same day? Very few I imagine. Even when faced with imminent death people still choose life.
That is a remarkable thing to know. Even through all the travails of dying, there is still something worth holding onto.

I’m reminded of a wonderful life-affirming passage, written by the great evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, in his book Unweaving The Rainbow:

“We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here.We privileged few, who won the lottery of birth against all odds, how dare we whine at our inevitable return to that prior state from which the vast majority have never stirred?”

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