Celebrating East African Writing!
What then remains, but that we still should cry
For being born, or, being born, to die ?
– Life of Man, Sir Francis Bacon.
There are images that I find myself struggling to embrace, or even accept. There are concepts that, while completely true and rational, I can’t bring myself to face. The top of this list is the concept of death. Death has always been a thing that happens to some obscure people, far away; something that I would never have to experience. Even when people near me died it was an experience I had from without myself. As if the grief, while I was experiencing it, was not my own but borrowed. Like a sufuria from my neighbor, I used this grief for the period I needed it, and then took it back to where it belonged.
But, where did that grief belong? Surely, not with someone else. Perhaps it is within a section of my mind that I am yet to access. A part of my mind that only lends me thoughts and doesn’t allow me to own them.
They say elephants cry. The story has it that, when an elephant dies, the other elephants hold a ‘funeral’ for it. Dolphins will stay with a dead dolphin for days, in denial. Sperm whales go as far as getting physical aches. So it would be wrong to assume that emotion, more particularly sorrow, is only felt by human beings.
The thing that makes the concept of death so hard to embrace is not the fact that it will someday happen to me. No, this is something that I have long come to terms with. It is the fact that it will someday happen to those that I have come to care for the deepest. Let’s be honest, being dead is the easy part. Living on when someone you love is dead, that’s the hard part.
At this point in any piece about death, it is typical to dispense advise about the precious nature of life. I’m meant to give some very inspiring quotes about how you only live once, and making the most of life. If I’m feeling really eloquent I may provide an anecdote of how someone faced death and made it. This is what all talk about death is geared toward, life.
A recent study showed that death is the second most feared thing in the world. The only way this piece could have made people more uncomfortable is if it was about public speaking. Yet, no matter how tragic, we have managed to glorify death. The number of deaths we see on television has been steadily on the rise with 2012 showing a 12% increase from 2011. We enjoy seeing people die on TV. Psychologists argue that this is because it makes us feel good that we’re alive. Others argue that it makes us come to terms with death.
The simple truth is, death of always on our minds. Out mortality looms over us, ready to spring at us at any second. When that car zooms past us, when we hear a loud sound, when startled we are always anticipating death. Waiting for it to swoop down, and that’s perfectly fine. Because, at the end of the day, what do we say to the god of death? Nothing, nothing at all.
Michael Onsando is an observer, a reader, a thinker and a writer. He is fascinated by life, love and equality. He imagines a world where privilege doesn’t exist, might won’t always be right and common sense reigns supreme. Until then, he writes.