“I hide behind the shield of my illusion. So I’ll continue to continue, to pretend My life will never end, And flowers never bend With the rainfall,” said Simon and Garfunkel back when I was young in age and old in spirit. Now I’m older in age and younger in spirit and I usually feel like my life will never end. That’s one reason I attend funerals when my friends bend with the rainfall. Of course I attend funerals to say goodbye to friends and colleagues, but also to remind myself of the cycle of life and that I, too, will perish.
A classic of psychotherapy is “Denial of Death” by Ernest Becker. The book’s premise is that we all engage in a good deal of denial of death to ward off screaming and gnashing our teeth in the daily knowledge that we could die at any moment. Denial of death is a primary and necessary defense against a terrifying certainty but also the source of mental illness if taken too far.
So, even though I engage in the illusion of agelessness with the best of them, I try to periodically remind myself of the fragility of life. One of the characters on the HBO series “Six Feet Under” was asked, “What is the purpose of death?” The answer: “To give life meaning.” Losing sight of the end of life altogether means losing the horizon, losing the ultimate perspective that everything and everyone passes, that nobody lives a life without troubles including the ultimate trouble–Death. By acknowledging death, life becomes sweeter, dearer, more precious.
Rumi, the ancient poet, wrote: “The moment we accept the troubles we’re given, the door opens.” Of course, this is true all through life and it hints at hope for an afterlife. By embracing the reality of death, what doors will swing open from our passing?
This week, I attended the funeral of my first supervisor in Atlanta, a man who was only six years older than me. Life seems more precious this weekend.