Monday, July 9, 2018

Seek Not Immortality!


“No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the final destination we all share.” Steve Job

“As no one has power over the wind to contain it,
    so no one has power over the time of their death.
As no one is discharged in time of war,
    so wickedness will not release those who practice it.” (Ecclesiastes 8: 8)

Human Existence

We all exist in this world. For the believers, their existence is a result of the Creator’s unfathomable plan for them; for the non-believers, their existence comes from their parents. No matter who we are, we don’t have much of a choice, except to continue to exist. According to a 2013 report of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, nearly one in five American adults (43.8 millions) had some form of mental illness. Surprisingly, not too many of those who were depressed would want to commit suicide or end their lives prematurely; they just wanted to continue to live a life maybe that was different from what they were currently living. In other words, irrespective of our mental conditions or current situations, the majority of us would still want to continue to exist in this world—maybe just wishing we could continue living our lives in a happier and more contented way for a little longer.

The Unrealistic Quest

In ancient times, many individuals were in quest of immortality, especially those in power. For example, Qin Shi Huang (秦始皇) (259 BC - 210 BC), the First Emperor of China, had made many futile attempts to discover and access legendary sources of immortality during his relatively short lifespan. Another example, the ancient pharaohs of Egypt might not have been on a quest for immortality because they earnestly believed that they were already immortal; nevertheless, they had spent an enormous amount of resources into retarding the decay of their physical bodies, as well as into building spectacular pyramids and grand tombs in which they could preserve their wealth and riches for their immortality.

The Realistic Realities

Nowadays, we all know the reality that all humans are mortal and that death is as inevitable as day becoming night.

“Is there anything we can do about our mortality?” This might be the question that many of us would like to ask ourselves.

First of all, man’s perceptions of mortality always change with age and time. If you ask a young adult if he or she would want to live long, probably the answer is “I don’t know” or “I just don’t want to grow too old and decrepit, like my grand-parents.” The young adult’s perspective of mortality also explains why many of the younger generation are living a reckless lifestyle as if there is no tomorrow.

Naturally, their perception of mortality would change over the years as they grow older with a family of children, or if they have a successful career with all the trimmings of a luxurious lifestyle that they would like to continue. A longer lifespan would then become an extension of their own legacy or continuation of their enjoyment of the fruits of their own accomplishments. The inscription on the tombstone of Bruce Lee (李小龍), the Hollywood actor, reads: “The key to immortality is first living a life worth remembering.” That says much about the hope of many to extend beyond the grave.

As aging continues, the fear of death or the unknown might also dawn on humans, driving some of the elderly into craving a longer lifespan in order to delay and defer the inevitable.

Indeed, many people may have different perspectives of their own mortality, depending on their upbringing, the life experiences they have gone though, their religious beliefs, as well as the meanings of death and dying to them. As a result of the differences, some may focus too much on death to the extent of creating death anxiety, while others may deliberately deny the existence of death, just like the ostrich burying its head in the sand.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, the life expectancy of Americans has significantly increased from 47 to almost 80. How long do you wish to live, if you just don’t die? And what would you do with your life, if you just don’t die?

It is futile to seek immortality. The bottom line: Make the best and the most of what you have left, live in the present, and live as if everything is a miracle.

Stephen Lau
Copyright©2018 by Stephen Lau

 

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