There is only one thing in this world I am sure of, and that is, we are all going to die. Yes, it’s true. Everything that exists or has ever existed—you and me, everyone you know and love, the Earth itself, and even the sun that facilitates all known life—will inevitably perish at some point in the future. Nothing is ever permanent in this world but death. If you think that’s depressing or even frightening, you’re not alone. In most societies, death means loss, mourning, grief, and tragedy. Rarely is it ever celebrated.
But what is death? As an atheist, I am inclined to define it merely as the permanent cessation of all biological functions that sustain a living organism, as Wikipedia had done. Whether or not there is life after death is beyond any known human knowledge so I will prefer not to get into such a pointless debate. Not unless you’re a farer from the distant future, in which case, I’d be more than happy to listen to what you have to say.
Everyone has heard of or has seen the face of death at least once in their lives. For many people, they come home from work or from school one day only to find a nimiety of distant relatives in their living room, all frowning, looking lachrymose and dejected. Then finally they break the news, “Your grandma/grandpa just passed away.” That was how it happened to me when I was five or six years old, the first time I encountered death. But others have it worse. Mayhaps their car crashes violently against another vehicle (let’s say it’s a ten-wheeler truck, for example), leaving them in a coma, a fine and fragile thread keeping life and death apart from one another. Death is an ubiquitous part of life, as ironic as that might sound.
But what can be done about it? Quite frankly, nothing. You may try to delay the inevitable. But that’s it. Though there is a way we could make the most of what little time is given to us. Live each day like it’s your last. We will never truly know when death will come knocking on our door. So see as much of the world as you can (to the best of your capacity, of course). Fall in love, marry your soulmate, and never let her go.
There is what Jean-Paul Sartre terms authenticity. He once famously stated that existence proceeds essence. Well, authenticity is simply the adherence to that notion. We must all take responsibility for our life, choices, and actions; that we should not be affected by what others think of ourselves. Sartre also stressed that it is important for us to form independently our own belief system and not to blindly abide by what society has been hammering unto us all our lives. To live authentically, according to Jean-Paul Sartre, is the only way to live a meaningful and fulfilling life. Do not give in to bad faith.
This begs the question, does it even pay off? What happens to us when we die? Well, I might not be the most qualified person to answer that. I’ve never died before, much less come back from it. Yet as far as the scientific evidence goes, it’s quite likely to be eternal oblivion. It’s bleak, I know. No wonder people turn to religion. The idea of a paradise in the clouds where you reunite with your dead loved ones, and where everyone shall live blissfully ever after ’til the end of days is quite attractive, I must admit. Yet the truth is almost always never convenient. So let me tell you what really happens when you die.
Once your dead, your cells will slowly perish and be broken down by the bacteria within your body. Your cadaver will begin to smell like the rotting flesh that it is, emitting such gases as methane and hydrogen sulfide. Before long, insects and other animals will move in, throwing the wildest party that no one would call the cops on. Those flies and maggots you used to step on as a child? They’d feast on you, leaving only your skeleton, osseous and naked, a mere shell of the breathing, thinking entity you once were.
But don’t feel too bad about all this.
You will still live—in the memories of those who remember you, who adamantly cherishes every moment they’ve ever spent with you. I know that doesn’t make your imminent demise any more comforting, but if there is a heaven, you’d be glad for it.