We’re All Going to Die

 

Everywhere I go I hear people talking about the massacre in Las Vegas. The 24-hour news cycle is obsessed with the tragedy, and there is no getting away from it. But one question that is asked over and over again frustrates and saddens me: “When we know why he did it, we’ll able to make the future safer.”

It’s a lie. A well intentioned lie, a desire to delude ourselves into thinking that we don’t live in a dangerous world and that we can protect ourselves. But in many ways, we can’t assure a perfectly protected existence. There is no living with “zero risk.” Let me try to clear up the delusion about making a safer world in a constructive and positive way.

The world has always been dangerous. Two thousand years ago, people died from exposure to the extreme weather, tribal and national wars, famine and disease. Many children died in childbirth. Many of these conditions are still true in third-world countries.

Today in the US we can make our cars safer, yet people will die in accidents. We make safer products, but children and adults will be killed by using them. We’ve developed cures for many diseases, and have the best healthcare in the world, and people still die from under-treatment, over-treatment, no treatment or the wrong treatment. All kinds of gun laws are already on the books and people are still dying from shootings.

Still, you say, there must be some way to stop these devastating terrorist acts. So we create the illusion that we are “doing something”; taking off our shoes for the TSA; opening our purses at concerts; providing security for controversial speakers at universities. We do all of these to protect the public, we say, but effectively we do them to fool ourselves; we are trying not just to protect ourselves, but to keep ourselves from dying.

But we are all going to die.

A part of you may say, I can’t give up! We are a civilized, intelligent, ingenious people. We should be able to come up with a solution to protect ourselves. What we are really saying is, we must be able to figure out how not to die, how to live forever.

So, you say, I don’t want to live forever! I just don’t want to die prematurely. I just want to be able to raise my kids. I just want to ensure that I see my daughter married and meet my grandkids. Is that asking so much?!

Yes. In fact it is asking for too much.

When the day comes for our deaths, we are likely not to have much, if anything, to say about it.

And yet there is a different kind of hope for us. You will not live forever; you can, however, come to terms with the fact that most things in life are out of your control. (This statement drives some people crazy, but if you think about it carefully, you’ll realize it’s true.) With that realization, that life will unfold as it will, you can experience a certain peace for important reasons:

  1. You can make good choices when choices are available.
  2. You can appreciate that you are alive to experience this special gift of your own precious life.
  3. You can experience and express gratitude for the big and little things you have.
  4. You can love those around you.

At those times when you become startlingly aware that life is fragile, ephemeral, and uncontrollable, remember you have all these gifts to embrace and share with others.

We are all going to die. But we can do our best to live with our eyes opened, enjoy every moment, show appreciation and celebrate.

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  1. Majestyk Contributor
    Majestyk
    @Majestyk

    Be grateful for every day because you don’t know how many of them you’re going to get.

    • #1
  2. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Majestyk (View Comment):
    Be grateful for every day because you don’t know how many of them you’re going to get.

    Exactly right, Maj. (Love the new pix!) See, appreciation there already!

    • #2
  3. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    Death defines our nature. It is knowledge we will die that drives us.

    • #3
  4. Majestyk Contributor
    Majestyk
    @Majestyk

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):
    Death defines our nature. It is knowledge we will die that drives us.

    The preciousness of life is in its rarity.  If you knew that you had forever, would you ever get anything done?

    • #4
  5. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Sweet, Bryan. I think that may be from a Christian perspective, do you think?

    • #5
  6. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Majestyk (View Comment):
    The preciousness of life is in its rarity. If you knew that you had forever, would you ever get anything done?

    Ha! I probably wouldn’t! Forgive me if I say that sounds like you, practical and insightful.

    • #6
  7. Hang On Member
    Hang On
    @HangOn

    Majestyk (View Comment):

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):
    Death defines our nature. It is knowledge we will die that drives us.

    The preciousness of life is in its rarity. If you knew that you had forever, would you ever get anything done?

    I think that depends entirely upon the personality of the individual.

    • #7
  8. Hang On Member
    Hang On
    @HangOn

    To not push at this smacks of fatalism in the extreme.

    I don’t know if you remember me talking about a story I read in a German lit class back in undergrad days. It was a Heinrich Böll story. A trapeze artist and how he had limits and the tradeoff was do everything within the existing limits or push at the limits. The problem you are posing is essentially the same problem. And you should do what you can both to push at the limits and maximize what exists within the confines.

    • #8
  9. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Hang On (View Comment):
    To not push at this smacks of fatalism in the extreme.

    I don’t know if you remember me talking about a story I read in a German lit class back in undergrad days. It was a Heinrich Böll story. A trapeze artist and how he had limits and the tradeoff was do everything within the existing limits or push at the limits. The problem you are posing is essentially the same problem. And you should do what you can both to push at the limits and maximize what exists within the confines.

    Who are you speaking to, HO? Me or Maj? Either way, I don’t understand your comment about fatalism.

    • #9
  10. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Hang On (View Comment):
    I think that depends entirely upon the personality of the individual.

    You take it as a rhetorical question. I think it’s a good question to ask ourselves. If you believe in the bible, of course, you know you won’t live forever, so there’s that. ;-)

    • #10
  11. Hang On Member
    Hang On
    @HangOn

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    Hang On (View Comment):
    To not push at this smacks of fatalism in the extreme.

    I don’t know if you remember me talking about a story I read in a German lit class back in undergrad days. It was a Heinrich Böll story. A trapeze artist and how he had limits and the tradeoff was do everything within the existing limits or push at the limits. The problem you are posing is essentially the same problem. And you should do what you can both to push at the limits and maximize what exists within the confines.

    Who are you speaking to, HO? Me or Maj? Either way, I don’t understand your comment about fatalism.

    I think that not take prescriptive steps because we will all eventually die is fatalistic. We will eventually die. It’s as simple thermodynamics if nothing else. But when?

    • #11
  12. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Hang On (View Comment):
    I think that not take prescriptive steps because we will all eventually die is fatalistic. We will eventually die. It’s as simple thermodynamics if nothing else. But when?

    You misunderstand or I don’t make myself clear. I’m criticizing the obsessive and irrational aspect of these efforts. Also, do you disagree that stopping these kinds of attacks (i.e. this latest one) so they never happen is possible? Do you think that if we know why he did it that we’ll be able to stop these actions? Those are my points.

    • #12
  13. Mike-K Member
    Mike-K
    @

    Death is something I dealt with for years as a surgeon, especially in the days when I was a resident at the county hospital and at the trauma center I organized in 1979. I have had my hand in a young man’s chest when we could not get his heart to start again. I had been squeezing it for a long time, perhaps an hour. We finally had to give up. I’ve done CPR on a man in the cockpit of his sailboat with his wife sitting next to us as my wife and I tried to revive him.

    We will all die and how we do so is not in our hands most of the time. We can only try to handle it with some grace. I read the book about “How we die” and did not like it. I think that surgeon had less experience with death.

    • #13
  14. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    @hangon, I would also add that these obsessions distract us from what is going on right now. Wonderful things are happening at this moment, and many people will miss them, maybe for weeks or months on end, because they will be thinking about what somebody might learn or do to stop these acts. I’m expressing a balanced paradox (I just made up that term): we need to be able to create balance in life. Whenever we obsess about anything, we are likely to miss our life passing us by. You don’t have to agree, but I hope this explanation is clearer.

    • #14
  15. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Mike-K (View Comment):
    We can only try to handle it with some grace. I read the book about “How we die” and did not like it.

    I’ve not heard of that book, Mike. Could you tell just a little about it? Thanks for your comment, BTW.

    • #15
  16. Douglas Baringer Inactive
    Douglas Baringer
    @DudleyDoright49

    @ Susan Quinn:  Powerful logic and clear use of the facts.  Your insightful writing is a refreshing interlude to the “we gotta do something!” yammering that hits us daily.  Thank you.

    • #16
  17. Columbo Member
    Columbo
    @Columbo

    • #17
  18. Robert McReynolds Inactive
    Robert McReynolds
    @RobertMcReynolds

    Death: It’s the Eternal Tax Cut.

    • #18
  19. Mike-K Member
    Mike-K
    @

    Here it is. https://www.amazon.com/How-We-Die-Reflections-Chapter/dp/0679742441

    Drawing upon his own broad experience and the characteristics of the six most common death-causing diseases, Nuland examines what death means to the doctor, patient, nurse, administrator, and family. Thought provoking and humane, his is not the usual syrup-and-generality approach to this well-worn topic. Fundamental to it are Nuland’s experiences with the deaths of his aunt, his older brother, and a longtime patient. With each of these deaths, he made what he now sees as mistakes of denial, false hope, and refusal to abide by a patient’s wishes. Disease, not death, is the real enemy, he reminds us, despite the facts that most deaths are unpleasant, painful, or agonized, and to argue otherwise is to plaster over the truth.

    He is kind of a euthanasia guy. I’ve done it too but his picture of how someone dies is much uglier than my own experiences.

    • #19
  20. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Robert McReynolds (View Comment):
    Death: It’s the Eternal Tax Cut.

    Yeah! I think.  . .   ;-)

    • #20
  21. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Columbo (View Comment):

    H.m.m….. multiple choice?

    • #21
  22. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Mike-K (View Comment):
    Here it is. https://www.amazon.com/How-We-Die-Reflections-Chapter/dp/0679742441

    Drawing upon his own broad experience and the characteristics of the six most common death-causing diseases, Nuland examines what death means to the doctor, patient, nurse, administrator, and family. Thought provoking and humane, his is not the usual syrup-and-generality approach to this well-worn topic. Fundamental to it are Nuland’s experiences with the deaths of his aunt, his older brother, and a longtime patient. With each of these deaths, he made what he now sees as mistakes of denial, false hope, and refusal to abide by a patient’s wishes. Disease, not death, is the real enemy, he reminds us, despite the facts that most deaths are unpleasant, painful, or agonized, and to argue otherwise is to plaster over the truth.

    He is kind of a euthanasia guy. I’ve done it too but his picture of how someone dies is much uglier than my own experiences.

    I don’t accept euthanasia. Death doesn’t have to be ugly –difficult but not ugly. Thanks, Mike.

    • #22
  23. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    Hang On (View Comment):

    Majestyk (View Comment):

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):
    Death defines our nature. It is knowledge we will die that drives us.

    The preciousness of life is in its rarity. If you knew that you had forever, would you ever get anything done?

    I think that depends entirely upon the personality of the individual.

    Like Wowbagger the infinitely prolonged?

    • #23
  24. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    Susan Quinn: But we are all going to die.

    Oddly enough, I just finished listening to Camus’ The Stranger.  The protagonist makes this exact point, and wonders why it is worse to die in 20 years than to die today.

    • #24
  25. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):
    Sweet, Bryan. I think that may be from a Christian perspective, do you think?

    I don’t think so. The knowledge of mortality is what separates us from animals.  Alone of life, we bargain with the future,  with sacrifice now, for a better then, and we know that ultimately, our bargaining will fail. To quote a verse I like:

    beware that the light is fading
    beware as the dark returns
    this world’s unforgiving
    even brilliant lights will cease to burn

     

     

    • #25
  26. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Randy Webster (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn: But we are all going to die.

    Oddly enough, I just finished listening to Camus’ The Stranger. The protagonist makes this exact point, and wonders why it is worse to die in 20 years than to die today.

    From that standpoint, the early death means that I will offer less to the world, I’d assume. Sounds like I should read The Stranger! Thanks, Randy 

    • #26
  27. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    anonymous (View Comment):
    True, but I think it’s important to distinguish the individual from our species and its descendants. The individual will die, but our successors may have a future none of us can imagine.

    In The Beginning of Infinity, David Deutsch made two observations which he described as “carved in granite”:

    • Problems are inevitable
    • Problems are soluble

    Excellent points, John. I don’t ever want us to think we can’t solve problems, even when we realize (unlike the Democrats) that solving problems can create new problems. My point is that we need to be able to identify legitimate problems that are worth trying to solve. I understand that it’s extremely difficult to identify those types of problems, but if we mis-identify what the problem actually is, we spin our wheels. We are also both suggesting a rational approach to problem solving, not a hysterical one. If I’ve got this wrong, please let me know.

    • #27
  28. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    anonymous (View Comment):
    We are at the threshold of becoming a multi-planetary species. This is the most profound milestone since our remote ancestors wiggled their way from the sea onto the land (they probably looked something like sowbugs). Once that happens, we’re not going back; we’ll have achieved species immortality. We just need to ignore those who would confine us to a Malthusian doom to gratify their own self-hate.

    Yes!

    • #28
  29. RushBabe49 Thatcher
    RushBabe49
    @RushBabe49

    Yeah, the only way we can “fix” humanity’s problems is to get those pesky humans out of the process.  Those humans always make mistakes and do bad things.

    Fortunately, there are enough good, smart humans to improve life for all of us, and as long as we all strive to be and do better, life will improve.  So by the time we do die, we will have left our positive mark.

    • #29
  30. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    RushBabe49 (View Comment):
    Yeah, the only way we can “fix” humanity’s problems is to get those pesky humans out of the process. Those humans always make mistakes and do bad things.

    Fortunately, there are enough good, smart humans to improve life for all of us, and as long as we all strive to be and do better, life will improve. So by the time we do die, we will have left our positive mark.

    Love this, RB. It reminds me of an unrelated but funny comment my husband used to make: “My work would be great if I didn’t have to manage people.”  ;-)

    • #30
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