Harve Bennett died yesterday. He was a writer and producer involved in the Star Trek franchise. In the wake of Leonard Nimoy’s recent death, it produced a fresh outpouring of grief on social media. Add to that the serious injuries Harrison Ford suffered in a plane crash and it has been a rough week for fans of the SF genre. I, too, have felt a few tears hover on the edge of my eyes.
It is always sad when we see our icons pass. Even worse is the passing of elderly parents or friends. Every one is a real loss in our daily lives and a reminder that eventually everyone we love will die and we will have to suffer the pain of their going. Unless, of course, we die first.
This is the natural order of things. We are born, we live, hopefully, a rich full life and then we die. We are mourned and then life goes on. So, when I hear that an 83 year old actor has died I feel a little sad — it marks the end of an era. A milestone in my own life. Another reminder of mortality.
Time is passing and neither wealth nor fame nor talent nor good works can halt its effects. We are all going to die.
Yet that simple truth — observable, falsifiable (point out one person who doesn’t die), more certain even than taxes — is very hard to accept. Blame consciousness if you like. Think how blissful it must be to be a dog. You go through life — it is either nice or nasty but you don’t spend all your time fretting about it. You enjoy the good and creep away from the bad. Then you don’t feel well and then you are gone. No worries.
Not so with us. We know early in our lives that we are going to go. It is one of — though certainly not the only one — pillars of religion. The afterlife — the grandest denial of death that has ever been constructed. Whether it is heaven or reincarnation — the central tenet of every religion is that life only transitions; it doesn’t end. Even atheists spend a certain amount of energy thinking about the singularity and our pending transition to immortal robot life.
The McGarrigle Sisters put it best in their song: Why Must We Die?
But, really, life is sweeter knowing that it must end. Knowing that you may never see flowers again, aren’t they more beautiful, isn’t their aroma more delightful? Could we really cherish anything if we knew it was here forever in unlimited supply? Even chocolate might lose its delight if you had it eight times a day for fifty years.
Death after a full life is natural. It is death that comes too soon that is the greatest tragedy. Women and men cut off at the height of their powers; children who never had a chance to blossom. These are the wounds that never heal. These are the blows from which lovers and parents never recover. These are the deaths that rob us of life.
So accept the natural order of things and hope you never have to suffer the unnatural one.
And that is ten brief and fleeting minutes.