Friday, 23 August 2013

That which approaches slowly yet surely.../On Death

''Ivan Ilyich saw that he was dying, and he was in continual despair.
   In the depths of his soul Ivan Ilyich knew that he was dying, but not only was he not accustomed to it, he simply did not, he could not possibly understand it.
   The example of a syllogism he had studied in Kiesewetter's logic - Caius is a man, men are mortal, therefore Caius is mortal - had seemed to him all his life to be correct only in relation to Caius, but by no means to himself. For the man Caius, man in general, it was perfectly correct; but he was not Caius and not man in general, he had always been quite, quite separate from all other beings; he was Vanya, with mama, with papa, with Mitya and Volodya, with toys, the coachman, with a nanny, then with Katenka, with all the joys, griefs, and delights of childhood, boyhood, youth. Was it for Caius, the smell of the striped leather ball that Vanya had loved so much?  Was it Caius who had kissed his mother's hand like that, and was it for Caius that the silk folds of his mother's dress had rustled like that? Was it he who had mutinied against bad food in law school? Was it Caius who had been in love like that? Was it Caius who could conduct a court session like that?''
 The Death of Ivan Ilyich, Leo Tolstoy.
Human beings do not live in the abstract. The abstract, the proposition, the concept, these are all easy for the average man to assent to. However, they remain abstract, propositions and concepts. Man is untouched. The proposition may illumine but is often utterly irrelevant to man's experience.  Man does not exist in a textbook but lives as flesh and blood, limited by space and time. He is finite, restricted, bound. There was a vast amount of time on earth when he, the individual, was unknown. Even while existing, he is unknown, a statistic, a dot in a crowd to the multitude. He decays, passes away, turns to dust or ashes. I decay, pass away, turn to dust or ashes. My friend decays, passes away, turns to dust or ashes. We die, not humanity, we perish. We make plans for our future or for the enjoyment of present things, such is necessary for fruitful living. But what if we were to die in a few moments time? Us here, as the seconds tick by, death approaches surely but slowly. A particular hobby of mine is historical reading, especially that of Ancient Rome. I marvel at the adventures of Pompey Magnus throughout the east, I wonder at the military genius of Caesar as he destroys the Gallic tribes, I consider the rise to power of Octavian from a weak youth to the most powerful man in the world as the first Roman Emperor. What each of them achieved has had lasting effects on mankind and on the history of our continent. However, each of these individuals has died, two were violently murdered. Both betrayed. One at the end of his glorious career, one at the height of his power at the hands of men he had forgiven. Death came suddenly and unexpected to each, and judgement was shift. Both are no where to be seen among the sons of men. I shall reserve judgment on their eternal fate but neither was prepared for death.
 We assert that humanity will continue on, but we forget the fact that humanity does not exist as a shape-shifting mass of material, but is made up of actual, individual human persons of flesh and blood. Our common sense notions about the universal fact of death is only consented to as a concept, not as a reality. The faithful Christian recognises that he will stop breathing at one instant and be swept along to the Judgement Seat. All has been written, all decreed. We will be unable to renegotiate our choices, we ourselves have made them. We have not lived on paper or in the hypotheticals of the intellectually curious. We have lived and died. I make an appeal not to indulge your passions before the opportunity has passed, but to recognise the true end of man and once this is attained, man will joyfully await his end, certain in the hope our Lord promised to those who persevere to the end in His love. As the dawn fades to dark, may we awaken to the full and unending glory of day.

Lord, save us from a sudden and unprepared for death!

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