|Chapter 8: The Vast Immovable Wall of Death |
DEATH IS ALWAYS SUDDEN
The Tale of the Heike, a medieval cycle of stories set in the latter half of the twelfth century, has been described by Edward Seidensticker as an “admirable parable upon the evanescence of things.” The message of its opening line reverberates through the text and across the centuries: “The bell of the Gion Temple tolls into every man's heart to warn him that all is vanity and evanescence.”
The realities that we cling to—health, possessions, reputation, home—are in constant flux. The change from moment to moment may be large or miniscule, but it leads inexorably to destruction.
In her bestselling nonfiction work The Year of Magical Thinking, author Joan Didion explains that on the evening of December 30, 2003, just after they sat down to dinner, her husband had “a sudden massive coronary event that caused his death.” It happened at the end of a perfectly ordinary day, a day like any other. Her husband was sipping a Scotch and talking with her. All of a sudden she looked up to find him slumped motionless, with his left hand in the air. Thinking that it was some kind of a joke, she said, “Don't do that.” But her husband never responded to her again.
The death of a loved one is shocking; but hardest of all to accept is the inevitability of one's own death. Just after his retirement, Wataru Hiromatsu (1933–94), professor of philosophy at the University of Tokyo, was suddenly felled by cancer. A giant in Japanese academic circles, he was thoroughly versed not only in philosophy but in science, psychology, economics, sociology, history, and other fields as well. Of his lifework, a projected three-volume study titled Being and Meaning, only the first half ever reached publication. In his introduction to Volume II—which would be his final work—he touched on his plans for the rest, ending with the plaintive inscription, “O for ordinary, peaceful days!”
I can't die now! Or so we think—but Death has other plans.
Hideo Kishimoto (1903–64), a professor of religion at the University of Tokyo who lost a long battle against cancer, left an account of his struggle against the disease in which he likened death to sudden, unprovoked violence.
Any outcome we construct, by whatever hardships and toil, will be quashed in the final act of life as the curtain comes crashing down. It is exactly like blowing bubbles; however giant a bubble you may contrive to blow, it is destined to burst in the end.
At the end of his masterwork Being and Nothingness, French existential philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre wrote, “Man is a useless passion.” What is so wretched as a life spent in pursuit of things destined to come to nothing? Why do people slave away with their eyes fixed on the here and now?
What are you doing this weekend ?
What ever you are doing do it with peace in your heart.