The Meaning of Death
“In the face of death life has an absolute value. The meaning of death is precisely its revelation of this value.” -William Barrett (Irrational Man, page 140)
When I was seventeen years old and in my senior year of high school, I was obsessed with death and suicide. I read people’s accounts of family members’ suicides, or their own suicide attempts, methods on how to do it, and even which method is the most efficient. Death was like a friend that I desperately wanted to meet. Life was someone that I did not like, someone I did not want to deal with anymore. But Death felt so pure, so safe. When I died, I no longer had to worry about dealing with Life. And I felt excitement thinking about it.
When I was in my first year of college, I made my first suicide attempt. I swallowed about 72 pills of Tylenol, excited that I would finally get to meet this thing Death. But after I swallowed every pill, I felt something that I did not expect: I felt anxiety at the thought of meeting Death, the thing I had wanted to meet for a long time. I realized after taking those pills that I was going to die, and I realized for the first time in a long time that that was not what I wanted. I actually felt this huge desire for LIFE, the thing I had wanted to get away from for a while. I realized that I did in fact want LIFE.
Last night, I was reading a passage from Barrett’s Irrational Man. He was talking about Dostoyevsky, who was condemned to be executed by firing squad but never was. He had learned something about life and death the days leading up to the would-be execution: that the meaning of death was to reveal to him the absolute value of life. When I read the above passage, the memories of my feelings after I made my first suicide attempt came rushing back to me. This idea is true, at least for me. I cannot help but wonder if my suicide attempts were good. I had learned something about life, that it does have value, only after making my attempts. Would I feel the same way about life as I do now if I had not made those attempts? Did God want me to make those attempts, only to save my life, to teach me something about life?
Right now, I feel like life is worth living, and that I need to make as much of it as possible. Sometimes I do fall into those dark pits of despair and think about my desire for Death again. But in those times, I must remember what I learned after my first suicide attempt: that life has an absolute value, and that this was a lesson that Death had taught me. Yes, sometimes death is a good thing because it reminds us, or reveals to us for the first time, that life is worth living. It is often when one is standing face to face with Death that one learns this lesson. It was like this for me. It can be like this for you. Next time you come face to face with Death, think about Life and its absolute value; and do not dwell on how horrible it would be if you were gone, but rather on how it can be for those you love before and after you are gone (if you are gone at all).
It is often those of us that have come face to face with Death but evade it somehow that are the ones that are most grateful for the time they have with Life. I am trying to make the most out of my life as I can. Sometimes Life can still be confusing, but there really is value in it; I know this because I have come face to face with Death, realized the value of Life, and scrambled to save myself. Being with Life may be miserable sometimes, but being with Death may make one miserable for an eternity.
REMEMBER the revelation from Death: that Life has an absolute value!