The Fear of Death and the Pursuit of Immortality


Still-Life with a Skull, vanitas painting.

Still-Life with a Skull, vanitas painting. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I can remember realizing as my body was dangling from the wing of the plane, how ridiculous of a scene this must have looked like.  Why had I thought jumping from an airplane would be an enjoyable pastime?  Hanging in the wind, I recall looking over at a complete stranger/instructor waiting for him to give me the signal to let go of the duct taped wing and plummet to the possibility of my death.  Only a few examples come to mind of when you allow a complete stranger to dictate when and how you may die, and not too many sound like any fun.  Either way, there I hang waiting for my adventure, surprisingly as soon as the man gave me the signal I stupidly let go of the plane.  I am not sure what I had expected but as soon as my hands were free I immediately screamed and flailed my arms and legs in hopes to find something to hang onto.  Of course my attempts at rescuing myself from this predicament was even more ridiculous of a scene than my hanging from the wing of a plane a few seconds earlier.  I remember only seeing white as the zip line pulled my parachute from my pack.  The next five minutes were some of the most exhilarating and disorienting minutes of my life.

What I learned of myself within those few seconds of free fall that day, was something that I had been trying to hide from my entire life; the fear of my own death.  Throughout most of our lives we deny ourselves the jarring realization of our impending death.  We hide within our distractions and feign courage and understandingly so, as to not disrupt the order that we have created with our delicate distractive universe. We believe ourselves invincible, and disregard any possibility that we could die.  It is only until we are faced with the imminent death that we realize how fragile it all is and how easily it could all disappear.

As Ernest Becker explains in his book “The Denial of Death”, our fear of death drives us to immortalize ourselves.  But this pursuit of immortality is much like my flailing uncontrollably in the sky to be delivered from the clutches of uncertainty and the unknown.  We flail about in our lives, from religion, to health, to career, to anything that will promise salvation from the unknown.  We are married to this unknown all of our lives, and yet we deny it’s existence until we are faced with it, and even then we still harbor delusions about the possibility of death. We believe there will be someone to catch us in the sky.  The truth is, is that we cloak ourselves with our self-deception, and it overshadows all that we do.  Our salvation lies within our surrender to the truth, it lies within our embrace of the unknown.  To know, is to claim yourself a fool, and to not know is what lies within the deep of all of our hearts.  To recognize this truth is to breathe life into the world and to experience it in all of it’s delicate beauty.  This life is bittersweet and it can either be a gift or a curse, but either way it is ours to do with it what we will. Embrace that which you do not know and experience all that is possible.

Just. B

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2 comments on “The Fear of Death and the Pursuit of Immortality

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