Life is a struggle for all living beings, all the time. As humans, there isn’t a day that passes that we don’t feel the struggle of being alive, and aware of our aliveness. As humans, this is our gift and our curse. Some days the struggle is less, when we get to bask for a minute or two in the warm sun, surrounded by people we love. We enjoy the beauty of these moments that are strung together with more difficult days. The beautiful moments tend to burst in our hands like a soap bubble; a moment that will evaporate at its own whim or from outer forces we aren’t aware of, so we savor it all the more.
We are all afraid of death, the great unknown. The unexpected, yet wholly expected, bursting of the bubble. That is universal. Over centuries, we have refined and revised our understanding of, or our belief in, the process of decay, death and loss – finding a way to live as comfortably as possible with a very uncomfortable truth.
I don’t think, in the end, that we have anything to fear from death. That in itself is a radical idea. You could say that death is a part of nature, but then, so is tearing a living creature apart in order to consume it and survive, so natural processes aren’t necessarily comforting. Fixed and immutable, predictable, yes, but comfort is not a guarantee.
The great religious texts of history exhaust spiritual theories of death and it’s subversion through various means. They are interesting ideas, but for the kind of mind I have, evidentiary information is what I understand best.
As a naturalist, I have observed in nature that when great energy is expended, or when great effort is made, great transformations occur. A star turns into a supernova. The proverbial caterpillar becomes a butterfly. A burst atom into nuclear energy. For all our efforts on earth, the masses of human energy expended to become something – anything – tinker, tailor, doctor, artist, mystic – suggest to me that our expenditures will invariably result in a great transformation. Matter, to energy, to who knows?
I do not like the thought of leaving all I have ever known or loved. My people, this beautiful planet we call home. No one does. But, when I’m being pragmatic with a dose of optimism, I tend to see the end of life as perhaps the greatest adventure yet to be taken. I’ve been a bit of a nomad and a wanderer most of my life, so maybe this metaphor appeals to my particular personality type. But I tend to think of it this way, because – who knows what will happen next? Maybe no one has come back to tell us because it’s wild beyond imagination or explanation, or because beyond death, time goes away and our loved ones gone before us know that we’ll know soon enough.
My evidence is circumstantial at best, but I believe that it will be our greatest adventure yet. And as such, I cannot be entirely afraid, but excited to continue to understand, on a new level, this great mystery unwinding within which we find ourselves.
– Shannon Alexander