“Death destroys a man; the idea of death saves him.” — E.M. Forster, Howards End
I read Howards End last week, and I made several notes on it on my Kindle, but for now I want to write about this line spoken by Helen Schlegel as she was talking with Leonard.
Death does destroy a human being, literally — our bodies decay with death. But the idea of death is what drives most of us to live our lives the best we can. Knowing that there is an end or becoming aware that the end is near, people tend to try to become their better selves — asking forgiveness, fixing broken relationships, showing kindness, completing tasks, etc.
Though I am afraid of a painful death, death itself, to me, is not something to be feared, but something that is merely necessary. It can be a hassle when you have responsibilities that you cannot simply entrust to somebody else, but you know it is a fact of life.
In the novel, Helen says: “I love Death — not morbidly, but because He explains.” And she goes on to explain how with Death, one can see the emptiness of Money.
Death does explain this and much more to us, but the idea of death leads us to ask the questions that really matter:
Why am I here if I’m only going to die? How can I make good use of my borrowed time in this life?
There’s not much use asking where you’re going after you die. It’s enough to answer the two questions above and live your life with purpose and passion.
May you find purpose for and passion in living your life. 🙏🏽
“..Death tears away the veil from all our secrets, our shifty dodges and intrigues.” – Dostoevsky, Mr. Prohartchin
Taiwushan Cemetery, Kinmen, Taiwan
Death can’t reveal all of our secrets, because some of them we carry to our graves. But death can literally reveal what we keep hidden underneath our clothes; when we die (if our bodies are intact) then our bodies become mere objects seen quite objectively by doctors, nurses and embalmers, all strangers to our bodies. But of course one can rationalize this and say, “Who cares? The dead don’t.”
Perhaps people will say I overthink things when I say this, but I feel nothing but compassion for sick people in hospitals and how their bodies become merely like an object that the healthy can just point to or talk about as if it is lifeless. I felt this the first time I saw my mother being given a sponge bath by my sister. I felt this as I stood next to my mother’s bed as she lay there in pain, while the nurses were changing her clothes. I witnessed the indignity of aging, and it made me feel so so sorry for us, human beings.
Hopefully one day we won’t have to deal with incontinence, hip fractures, loss of mobility, etc. and just go quietly with dignity intact.
SCHADENFREUDE AND THE SICK MIND
I just finished re-reading Dostoevsky’s The Idiot and thought about how the most important characters all seem to have mental problems. The most interesting characters are the eccentric ones, and the dull ones are the very normal people.
Rogojin loved Nastasia, even though she kept humiliating him in public; but, that love eventually turned to hate and led him to murder her. When she died, he kept her body in his house and watched over it. He did not laugh at her death. He was sick, but he was not happy that she died.
Myshkin understood and did not condemn Rogojin for killing his bride-to-be. They called him the “idiot”, but he was the only enlightened one among all the characters. “The Idiot,” just like “Crime and Punishment” and “Brothers Karamazov” (my number 1 favorite novel), made me think about a lot of things – about myself, my family, friends, and life and death. I started re-reading it at a time when, someone I know, was dying.
After reading the book today, I read, not a fictitious story, but a true-to-life one of a person in terrible pain and with only a few hours to live being visited by some people who made jokes and laughed loudly in the room. Perhaps they did not realize the person was in pain? I do not think it is hard to tell if a person is in pain, especially when they are groaning.
As a child, I was scolded by my father for making my sister laugh while our other sister was crying because she was itching all over from an allergy. Back then I thought what’s wrong about laughing? We were not laughing at or about her. But before I could say anything, my father said, “When somebody is suffering, you do not make light of their suffering by laughing.” It is not only rude, it is evil.
In our life, there are people who love us and those who hate us. There are people who like us, dislike us, or to whom we mean nothing. Being an introvert, I have very few people, apart from my family, I trust and truly like. But should I find myself dying, I would not want anyone except for my immediate family to see me on my deathbed. I do not want visitors who may only come to see how much I am suffering and be happy to see me thus.
Because believe me, there are such people. They look quite normal, so normal that they even managed to graduate with a bachelor’s degree even though they cannot spell their names correctly. They look good and are very sociable. They walk with a swagger even though their stomachs are sticking out. They speak loudly in front of their acquaintances but simply to sound important. Yet what little knowledge they have is simply based on hearsay, God knows if they have even touched a book!
These people enjoy watching others suffer. It is difficult to understand because they are supposed to be “normal.” I can understand a mental patient laughing at someone who had been run over by a car, because the person is mentally sick. He has no control over his thoughts and feelings. I can understand a drug addict laughing at someone who fell down the stairs because his brain has been corrupted by drugs. But how to understand people who are not into drugs, talk normally, act normally in front of most people yet laugh at a dying person?
How are people like these different from the rebels who tortured the 44 SAF and laughed while they were doing so? I find these supposedly “normal” people scarier than the MILF rebels who killed the SAF. We can stay away from the MILF. But, these “normal” people are scarier because they live amongst us, watching us, waiting for us to fall, so they can laugh their evil laugh. But they do not scare me. I know their kind, and they can never come near me or my family.
They laughed as she lay dying.
MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN.