“Everybody got to die some time, Red”

January 18, 2011

To be confronted with the knowledge that you’re on the way out must be a character building experience, to say the least. Some of my first thoughts on the matter were formed by watching Platoon, from which the title of this post is lifted. If you don’t remember or haven’t watched the film, Sgt Barnes tells the slightly lily livered Red that despite escaping the last ‘mother of all battles’ alive he’s got to go straight back into the next one. This offends Red’s sense of natural justice because he has only very narrowly escaped the last fight and only a man as seemingly unbothered by death as Tom Berenger’s character would push someone back into Death’s casino without at least a brief amount of time out for a drink and smoke in the bar.

I can only admire Christopher Hitchens reaction to his sentence being unexpectedly shortened by cancer and his eloquence on the subject of dying since he found out – along with his continued work rate. Such lines as the fact that we are born ”into a losing struggle and nobody can hope to come out a winner” puts things in context and shows the admirable character of someone focused on illuminating the rest of our knowledge as to something we will only ever experience – hopefully briefly – only once. I know I wouldn’t have the composure (nor the writing ability, wit or intelligence…) to do the same.  

There are interesting parallels between Hitchen’s and David Hume’s positive attitude to death described in this article, which is well worth the read story.asp?sectioncode=26&storycode=414670.

I am reading ‘The Book of Dead of Philosophers” at the moment. It describes the death of various philosophers (sounds depressing, but its very funny and enlightening), their attitudes to death and its influences. One passage by the Chinese philosopher Chuang Tzu on the death of his wife i found particularly, well, comforting:

When she first died, do you think i didn’t grieve like anyone else. But i looked back to her beginning and the time before she was born. Not only the time before she was born, but the time before she had a body. Not only the time before she had a body, but the time before she had a spirit. In the midst of jumble of wonder and mystery a change took place and she had a spirit. Another change and she had a body. Another change and she was born. Now there’s been another change and she’s dead. It’s like the progression of the four seasons: spring, summer, autumn, winter. Now she’s lying peacefully in this room”.

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