Friday, October 07, 2016

What comes next? Am I ready for it?

It might come across as strange that I spend a lot of time thinking about death, given how convinced I am that there is nothing after I die.  (Note: it is death. Not "resting peacefully" or any other crappy euphemism!!!)  To be so convinced that there is neither hell nor heaven nor any limbo-state pending resolution of my status is liberating.  I am not at all worried about the after.  I am only worried about the here and the now.  I am, therefore, worried about whether or not I am doing things that I won't have to regret about as I lay dying.

I have always believed that everybody wonders at the last stages whether they did alright and whether it was worth it.  Even if it was a sudden end to life, that fraction of a second, the dying person might contemplate that.  Death can strike us any second, which means that I better have my answer ready at all times.
The immanence of human finitude — the fact that we’re dying right now and not in some distant future — should create the impetus for philosophical reflection. Most philosophers know this in some abstract sense. The Platonic dialogues are set against the backdrop of the trial and death of Socrates for a reason: The difficulty of facing death is that it comes with the sudden challenge of giving a good account of your life, what Plato called an apologia.
When dying finally delivers us to our inevitable end, we would like to think that we’ve endured this arduous trial for a reason.
How can this not be a question that people try to answer every day?  Maybe we are arrogant, and we believe that death is far, far, away.  Or, maybe we are in extreme denial about death.  I cannot imagine either one to be a good approach to living one's short time on this planet.
When an old man asks, "What is the meaning of life?" he simultaneously queries the infinitely more particular question: "What is the meaning of my life?" Which is also the question: "What might be the meaning of my death?"
Any satisfying answers would have to address what this meaning might be from the inside, in terms that could be subjectively felt.
Nothing to disagree there.  The meaning is inside.  Indeed.  That is why I focus on death.  Not because I want to die--my posts make it very clear that I love life.  I love living.  The life that I love ends with death.  The end point of death is the destination. For me, and for you too.

In a wonderful essay, from where I had excerpted those quotes above, the authors ask, “Are we teaching students everything without teaching them anything regarding the big questions that matter most?”
It must be part of our jobs, as college teachers, to launch our students on the search for something larger than their immediate concerns, to confront them with the challenges that are presented by such intractable questions as the meaning of suffering, life, and death. "One never goes so far as when one doesn’t know where one is going," Goethe wrote elsewhere, and that’s a big hint. The elusiveness of knowing about life and death might be the point. Like falling in love, or even like remembering riding a bike, thinking about death might be the willingness to embrace what is unknown, what is unknowable. The cheerfulness displayed by that old skeptic Socrates in the face of death is apt for one wise enough to admit that he’s never known anything about the most important matters.
I don't think so.  Not because it is not our jobs.  In fact, I am convinced that it is.  One of the biggest reasons that I am offering a seminar course this term is precisely because I want students to be able to think above and beyond merely coursework and their immediate concerns.  However, we will be fooling ourselves if we think that students will truly latch on to understanding the importance of examining one's life.  As much as the larger population does not care, students too do not care.

There in lies the tragedy.  We all know we will all die.  But, we do not want to spend a good chunk of our time and energy into understanding our own existence.  Our "education" is about anything but this fundamental existential question.
Yes, in the face of life and death, all that knowledge amounts to nothing. Of course it does. The meaning of life and death is not something we will ever know. They are rather places we are willing or unwilling to go. To feel them, moment by moment, to the end, authentically, thoughtfully, passionately — that is an answer in itself.


Ramesh said...

Oh, we are back again. This is actually a very well written scholarly post. Alas, I don't relate to the issue in the same way as you do and therefore cannot offer a meaningful comment.

I will only say that a seminar course on examining one's life, would be brilliant for 40 year olds and above, but , I suggest, somewhat tough for a 20 year old.

Sriram Khé said...

So the question then is not about the appropriateness of a seminar to kick-start the thinking of the meaning of life, but on the timing? A typical 40-year old is busy juggling a job or jobs, kids, aging parents, with or without a supportive spouse, ... the 40-year old won't be interested in this either. But, the reality is that most 40-year olds when they complain about their jobs, kids, spouses, neighbors, everything else, they are forgetting that deep down the question is the seminar question: what is the meaning of your life?
At every age we decide that this seminar question is not appropriate ... and then if we are lucky we get old enough and with secure mental faculties and we begin to regret the choices that we made that we think made life meaningless ....

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