We all die. It’s said that we all die alone, but what that may mean we can’t know. My idea that there is no death is admittedly a negative proposition, and it is famously difficult to prove a negative. I certainly cannot prove it, or even test it, by not dying. Wittgenstein claims rightly that death is not an event in life, though dying certainly can be, and in fact sometimes (certainly not always) dying can be the locus of a Moment in Eternity itself, the soul flooded with richness and somehow in possession of the universe. (We know this from the experiences of people who died and then were resuscitated, or in some other way did not stay dead, but maybe they don’t actually count as having died at all.) It is true, and many of us have noticed it, that even for the fretful and afraid who cling to life, there can come at the end a brief time of calm clarity where all of that fades away; we usually think of it as a goodbye peace, the soul resigning life and its claims there at the frontier, but maybe it’s not that. I’ve actually witnessed it as a kind of inexplicable good cheer. Maybe it’s an understanding, granted by the dissolving physical structures, that the self does not actually at that moment face death or approach death, but has always had death as well as everything else within its view or at its fingertips: that the vision of death—of being extinguished, buried, disintegrating—is death, which can only exist as a part of life. In the midst of death we are in life.
Lapham’s Quarterly, Fall 2009
Photo: Woody Allen in Love and Death (1975)