Death

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It matters how we live, and it matters how we die. We are not in complete control of either our life or our death, but that doesn’t mean we have no control at all. What is important for every man, is to try to live and die in the best possible way, in a way that is moral, is honorable, is worthy of praise. Much has been written on death, and facing death, but much of it has been forgotten. For our ancestors death was part of life, was not something to be ran from, was not something to be postponed, was not something to ignore or pretend that it could be avoided or conquered. You will die, and you will die much sooner than you think. So, how is a man to die?

One way to die is on the battlefield. Brave Horatius taught us:

“To every man upon this earth Death cometh soon or late. And how can man die better than facing fearful odds, for the ashes of his fathers, and the temples of his Gods?”

Wise Sarpedon thus spoke:

“Man, supposing you and I, escaping this battle, would be able to live on forever, ageless, immortal, so neither would I myself go on fighting in the foremost, nor would I urge you into the fighting where men win glory. But now, seeing that the spirits of death stand close about us in their thousands, no man can turn aside or escape them, let us go on and win glory for ourselves, or yield it to others.”

The Kings of old knew of it:

“If we are mark’d to die, we are enough to do our country loss; and if to live, The fewer men, the greater share of honour. God’s will! I pray thee, wish not one man more. By Jove, I am not covetous for gold, Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost; It yearns me not if men my garments wear; Such outward things dwell not in my desires. But if it be a sin to covet honour, I am the most offending soul alive.”

The warriors death is not always an option, but the sentiments expressed by our ancestors apply to all manner of death. Death is a certain, it cannot be avoided, so let us do and say what is right, even if it leads to death.

Today we have a very different outlook. Death is something to be fought, something to be challenged, something to be cured. A poem that expresses this outlook seems to strike a chord with modern man.

“Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

It seems that the old antagonists of fear and cowardice, of dishonor and shame have been replaced by the antagonist of death itself. It is not an all at once obvious replacement, but it is a replacement, and it has had quite an impact on us.

Let us look again at what Horatius said.

“To every man upon this earth Death cometh soon or late. And how can man die better than facing fearful odds, for the ashes of his fathers, and the temples of his Gods?”

The fearful odds he speaks of are not the odds of dying, dying is a certainty for Horatius, it is the odds of success of the particular venture at hand, for his case, preventing his enemies from crossing a bridge. He speaks of his dead ancestors, why would they care? Horatius knows that he is not just some individual detached from his people, he recognizes that he is a link in a long chain that precedes him and will go on after him, and he knows that a chain is made stronger by stronger links. To him, the whole is made stronger by the death of the part. Marcus Aurelius expresses it thus:

“For remembering this, inasmuch as I am a part, I shall be discontented with none of the things which are assigned to me out of the whole; for nothing is injurious to the part, if it is for the advantage of the whole.”

Horatius also mentions God. He acknowledges that life and death, the earth and everything in it is created and controlled by a greater power than himself. He believes that it is greater to sacrifice ones own life in a show of respect and gratitude to God, than to try to prolong his life as long as possible. All of Horatius sentiments are echoed in what Sarpedon and Henry say.

Death should be embraced, it should not be fought. That does not mean that we should be against medicine, or we should just allow the spread of disease or be pro abortion, because we shouldn’t. What I am saying is that we should make reasonable decisions regarding life and death, knowing that there are things that are greater than life itself, and that we shouldn’t say to ourselves, “preserve life above all else.” We shouldn’t say that there is no limit, there is nothing that will stop us, that there is no point when we just say, “it is my time.”

Do not misunderstand, I do not believe that the decision of our death should be anybodies but our own, what I am saying is that there is a decision, and there is a right and a wrong way to approach that decision. Take for example a man of 70, who is diagnosed with terminal cancer. This man has lived a full life, been blessed with otherwise good health, a job, a family, acknowledges our Savior Jesus Christ. Should he not accept his fate? I know that this decision gets harder to make under different circumstances, let’s say he is 45 and his grandchildren are just starting to talk. What then? We could go through a thousand different circumstances, but that isn’t the point, the point is that you will die, and you should as far as possible choose to die like a man worthy of praise from your descendents, not like an animal scratching and clawing at every last breath.

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