Thoughts after reading Christopher Hitchens’ book Mortality. I don’t usually think about death.
If today has any significance in my own life it has to be because when I’m asked my age I can now say, for the very first time, that I’m 85, 85 being somehow a better number than 84, and not only because of the extra year giving my life today more substance than it had before, than last week, than yesterday, than a year ago.
When I would think about my age during the time leading up to today, when I was asked my age, I would almost never say 84, but rather that I was in my 85th year. 85 had become in my thinking one of those milestones that if we’re lucky we pass in the process of growing old, as that of 50 years, and later 65. I can say now without contradiction that today I’ve made it by each one of these milestones. I’m alive.
Death was not in each instance all-powerful. What I wonder will be my next milestone? 100? If I reach that one death will once again have to step aside, probably unwillingly, at least for that one day in my life, August 14, 2032.
Death is not all-powerful, that which I realize on each one of my birthdays. For in each case it could not stop me from having lived the full year. And most of all it could not touch my past, all that I had lived and experienced up until then. In fact, today, Death, you’re out of it. All that I’ve lived and experienced is not yours, but mine forever.
OK, you’ll say, we don’t have yet have a way of keeping hold of our past, of what is truly ours, when we die, but our dying doesn’t at all mean that what we’ve done, that our lives up until the moment of our death is death’s. No, it is still all ours alone. For Death while taking me can not touch what I’ve been. So why do we fear it? Death is no worse, no more powerful than a violent storm. It can blow me away, but not touch what has made me during 85 years what I am now, and somehow what I’ve been will stay, as everything that has ever been stays somewhere in the vastness of time and space.