I’m reading what is turning out to be an intriguing and quietly powerful book right now – The Phone Box at the Edge of the World. And, unusually, I’m bookmarking certain passages. Here’s one:
Takeshi was convinced that it was the survivors, the people left behind, who gave death a face. That without them, death would be nothing more than an ugly word. Ugly but, deep down, harmless.
What a myriad of thoughts, reactions, little side roads of consideration that quote has set off. And how true – we all tend to contemplate our own deaths with apprehension, but with nothing like the alarm we feel when thinking of when our own nearest and dearest will depart and exist only in the past tense. Do we have the capacity to look upon death dispassionately and therefore take the power out of the word? Probably not.
And for some reason I recall Anthony Trollope’s 1882 novel The Fixed Period. This concerns a country whose rulers decide that it would be good for the ongoing health and vitality of the nation that its inhabitants should be gently euthanised with honour at a certain fixed age. Like pruning a bush or deadheading flowers. The logic is embraced and the law unanimously approved. Inevitably doubts creep in as the first of the citizens approach the age decided on. Should there not perhaps be exceptions if, say, the person in question is in perfect health and his continued existence and acquired experience is in fact of benefit to the country? Inevitably the whole thing falls apart. I wonder if Trollope meant it to come across as humorously as it actually did?
But that novel, and one or two others since, imply that death – planned or unplanned – might be accepted as merely an extension of life and thus become merely a harmless word, though perhaps an ugly one.
Jane Fritz said:
Wow, very deep, Roy. Hmm. I fall into what apparently is a small camp of those who do not fear their own death at all, although definitely fear the death of loved ones. But I have come to understand that most people do fear death, which accounts for the hold of religion and their “guarantees”. Isn’t it the case that some beliefs do consider that death is merely an extension of life, through reincarnation, etc? For me, I figure I’ve already had a good run (figuratively and somewhat literally). The thoughts that arise when a “cut-off” age is established and then clearly desirable exceptions are identified is an intriguing one! Of course, that’s exactly what would happen. It’s not the amount of time, it’s the quality of the time you have. What you do with your dash. Quite the post, my friend!
Roy McCarthy said:
It has great potential for a deep dive Jane, but I’ll leave that to others. That quote just struck me as being an eminently sensible outlook. I wonder if the ancients held the same fear/apprehension about death before organised religion came along? I think they might have – every living creature fights for its life, or runs away, if threatened. Or maybe it’s the desire not to die badly.
The catholic church has a good go at selling the idea of a glorious afterlife though I’m not sure the faithful quite see it like that.
I do like the idea of reincarnation with the soul being immortal – I don’t know if that’s any comfort to the dying or their loved ones though? I guess we’ll find out sooner or later.
Browsing the Atlas said:
I’m adding both of those to my reading wishlist, Roy. I read a very different approach to aging and euthanisation that made me stop and think. It was almost a choose-your-own-ending structure. I heard author Lionel Shriver talking it about it on an online author event and had to read it after she talked of the fun she had writing it. It’s called SHOULD WE STAY OR SHOULD WE GO?
Roy McCarthy said:
Hi Juliann. OK I’ve just downloaded Shriver’s book, thanks for the recommend.