To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing. _Shakespeare
In the finite existence of humans, man is destined to inquire into the infinity of life. Yet in this very endeavor, he cannot escape being mortal. After all what is life? Except for existence amidst survival in the best of times and the worst of times. It is the slow tick of the clock edging ever close to the limits of its mechanism, the minute hand slowly and inexorably moving towards that fateful hour. And what of this life, except within short term memories of a few generations, extinguished as the hour hand sweeps to the next day.
The tale hangs by a tenuous thread.
There was a man in his forties, who was fastened to the horrors of a disease, always contemplating his survival. His dream was that he would build a magnificent house, buy a boat and speed across the ocean on a summer’s sunny day and barbecue at the edge of land with all those he loved and cherished. That was his dream. He would not listen to reason, for reason had treasonous intent and had betrayed him. He would not listen to limits, for they were self-imposed, in his mind. He would not listen because he did not want to listen. His, was a mind that defied rules of existence. He wanted to, nay, he believed that life limits were self-imposed and that death came when you let it enter the front door.
He accomplished some of his dreams. The summer of pain was mollified by the warmth of the sun and as surely as the sun rises each morning, the hope and dreams of one were drowned by the setting sun in the fall. The house he had desired, remained as nothing but an architects rendering. yet the door in those drawings had been left open.
Life is predictable! It always ends!
As humans we know that there is a predictable end to living, yet we cannot, do not and will not comprehend it and there lies the paradox. Death only comes to others. Loss is ours but we cannot comprehend our own exit. We can imagine it but always as a hovering presence of the third person. Can you imagine what death would be like? Is it a black void? Or is it an endless sea of light? Or is it just blank? What is it? What happens when the brain fails and the mind stops and one enters the “undiscovered country from whose borne no traveler returns?” Are there trumpets announcing arrival? Or as the Mortality Paradox forces us humans to say, “This is getting dense, let me change the channel.”
The Dying Gaul
This mortality paradox has drawn a more vibrant color in present day society. It appears to have become an imperative, that death can somehow be circumvented forever for me, even though it marches on consuming others. That disease is a function of the past and ridding it must be the exclamation of the present. As humans, we think that our capabilities transcend the vagaries of disease and the exclamation of death. In this metaphor ordained, quasi-scientific culture of a self-interest society, the denial of reality is the new norm, steeped in false hope and unfounded in reality.
Confronted with mortality, an 80-year-old will now evoke a sense of missed opportunity, missed expertise or just wrongful curtailment of his or her rights. Because we have cultured our culture with the false residue of life-extended perfect survival even in the face of the grim reality, denial is an easy retort.
British philosopher, Stephen Cave writes in his book, Immortality: The Quest to Live Forever and How It Drives Civilization (Crown 2012), “Death therefore presents itself as both inevitable and impossible,” and defines this as the Mortality Paradox.
While Woody Allen wants to achieve immortality “by not dying,” Christopher Hitchens on a more realistic tone, said at a lecture once, “I’m dying, but so are all of you.”
What about Shakespeare’s idiot? Are we him? Since he is telling the tale and ultimately whether an idiot or an intellectual be, we all share the same fate that eventually life, “signifies nothing?”