I have a young friend whose whole world is boyfriends, clothes and aerobics. She is also terrified of death, more than most. I am aware that in befriending me she is also probably coming as close to thinking about death as she is able at the moment: I have a white beard! One day she will speak seriously to me about death; at present she can only speak of it by allusion. Like the grim reaper himself I am watching and waiting! I know death by proxy and I am not so afraid, or at least I think I am not, at the moment. I want to speak of it, not in order to draw this child from her pleasures, but to bring death into the human circle. It surrounds our life on every side; how could we pretend that it is not there? It is part of the equation; how could we enter our humanity deeply without reflecting on it?
The knowledge of death gives you depth, whether you like it or not. It forces you to see the shape of your life, since you have to imagine it finished. If you are in a cloud you cannot see the cloud’s shape, so you have the impression that it has no limits; these can be seen only from the outside. You have to imagine your life finished some day, so you cannot avoid thinking of its shape. How does it look when you think of it like this? It looks particular, limited, local; it is such-and-such, it is not the limitless thing you imagined. There will be a time when no further avoidance of realities, no further postponement of depth, will be possible.
Every moment of our life is profound because in a sense it is the last; it is the first and last time this moment is happening. (I wonder if the fascination that many western people have with reincarnation is only a disguised fear of death?) The moment is profound only if you know how to let it pass, how not to be greedy. Why are we not taught a science of living the moment fully and then letting it pass? It would be the most important of all sciences. You try to hold onto the moment because you have not lived it and therefore you want to keep it for later. But when you think of death you know that postponement comes to an end. So death teaches you how to live with depth.
I have found that the times and places where I poured out my life were precisely the times and places that I left most easily. I trust that this experience, if I enter it deeply, will teach me in the end how to leave all time and place, how to leave this sweet life.
From I Remember your Name in the Night, Donagh O'Shea
(Dominican Publications, Dublin 1997, 2nd ed. 2017)