What is death and what is the role it plays in life? The Existentialists have a fascination with death … at least, that is my understanding. Back in my college days, I only studied existentialism in maybe one or two classes. I had a friend—a history major—who claimed to be an existentialist. According to him, the defining characteristics of existentialism are the incommunicability of a certain aspect of life experiences (I agree with that) and the importance of “coming to terms with one’s own death” (I agree with that, too). Oh, and there’s also a leap of faith thing … which is just a fancy name for talking openly with a friend. I’m not sure if actual existentialist philosophy embraces those three things, but I agree with my friend that they are critically important.
Anyway, back to death. According to my existentialist friend, there is a point in one’s life where one “comes to terms with one’s own death.” He described such an experience as a “hole in the soul.” According to him, it helps clear up what’s important. And I agree with him. It does. I came to terms with my own death at mass in a church where the pastor was giving a sermon on Death, The Great Teacher. I remember the gospel reading that inspired that sermon that day; it was the one where the woman comes in and bathes Jesus’ feet with myrrh and the Apostles are complaining that the ointment should have been sold and the money given to the poor. Jesus comes to the woman’s defense. When I was younger, I thought the Apostles were in the right. But if you hear Jesus’ words when you are coming to terms with your own death, He wins the argument hands down. He said, “The poor will always be with you, but I will only be with you a little while longer.” Basically, He knows He’s going to die, and soon; so, He tries to drive home the point that the Apostles should cherish him while he still lives. And that point he makes is both universal and atemporal. That is, every member of your family and every one of your friends will die, and they will die soon. Because, when Death is the end, whether it be 3 days or 30 years, the adjective is soon (I know, soon is really an adverb—adjective just sounds better). Jesus’ lesson is always about love. In light of death, His teaching simply gains more force and wisdom. I know in my case, after that particular sermon, I went home and called my best friend on the phone just to talk to him and hear his voice. It was a very powerful experience.
I was going to discuss Satan a little bit, in relation to death, but I’ll leave that to another post. With that, I bid you farewell.