by John Dillon
Intimations of Mortality
I’m in my eighth decade and various age-related ailments are making their presence felt. Nonetheless, there’s life in the old dog yet. But for how much longer? I don’t know. I don’t particularly want to know. The moment will come. Do I dwell on it? No. Complacency? Yes. But there are definitely intimations of mortality creeping in. I know that this is a difficult subject, and if it is too much for you, now is the time to find another post to read. As for the those of you who choose to stay, let’s be honest, there’s nothing to look forward to, is there? It’s curtains and no way back.
I’m not going to discuss how we meet our ends, but the fact that there is an end and what it means to me. You might share in it, even if you disagree. My deterministic atheism precludes me from anticipating an afterlife. As the great philosopher Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols once said wonderfully succinctly of the concept, ‘Get out the ‘ouse! Nuff said.’ Sorry Johnny, you were so right but I choose to slightly expand on the topic.
So, every morning I wake up and my immediate thought is, ‘I’m still here. Shake a leg,’ and I do. How brilliant is that? Another morning and I can move and breathe and think. Yes, thinking, that’s essential. I intensely appreciate the fact that I can still do these things. I have this one chance to be. And so the day and night progress, and the pattern recurs, until… nowhere and nothing.
“Humankind cannot bear very much reality.”
Many people find that facing this reality is almost unbearable. Best not think about it at all. Some are consciously confronting the moment as you read these words. From our human perspective this is the ultimate tragedy, and it is when religion is often turned to for solace. I don’t blame anyone who chooses this option, but I cannot join them. Is there any consolation for an atheist? Who am I to advise? I am not there… yet. However, it is at moments of reflection like this that I cannot help turning to the words of William Wordsworth. Although he was expressing a diametrically antithetical theme to this one in his great poem: Intimations of Immortality (ED: read it here.] , I totally concur with his poetic conclusion:
Thanks to the human heart by which we live,
Thanks to its tenderness, its joys and fears,
To me the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.
The more awareness I have of my own mortality, the more intense is my sensation of being alive, and the greater is my appreciation of being so. Can there be any better solace than that?