To begin, I gave our concept here, “Death,” the ol’ ellipsis for both an ironic and purposeful end. So-to-speak.
Scientifically speaking, we still have only one definition of “Death.” And that’s just it: “DEATH.” Period. “DEATH.” is physical death, when vital signs have faded to nil and all conscious and unconscious activity is undetectable. But we continue to grapple with “DEATH…”, the period surrounding this physical state and continuing beyond it, when death as an experience is explored.
As my physically living body types these words in the accepted year of 2010, we still have no universally accepted, unifying knowledge of death. The Encyclopedia Britannica says this of death:
“[T]he total cessation of life processes that eventually occurs in all living organisms. The state of human death has always been obscured by mystery and superstition, and its precise definition remains controversial, differing according to culture and legal systems.”
I have been careful not to suggest that we have no idea what death is. No assertion could be farther from the truth, as human beings have trillions of ideas about what death is. Death is the separation of the soul from the physical body. Death is the moment that we meet God. Death is the beginning of our journey to heaven. Death is when all the lights go out for good, or for bad. Death is tragic, death is beautiful, death is divine.
Our own secular sources to explain death (as cited above) can not properly suggest even a working knowledge of a definitive “DEATH.” The shrouded body remains forever shrouded in mystery. Just as noteworthy is the repeated medical conundrum of determining the “Cause of death.” Because physical death corresponds to the ending of numerous “life processes,” as we’ve noted above, citing a single “CAUSE” of death is entirely inaccurate.
For the purposes of medicine and our own human need for closure, we have learned to recognize the “CAUSE” of death for a living being to be the proverbial straw atop the camel’s back. A forensic pathologist will cite a deadly contaminant, a piercing bullet, or a traumatic head injury as a cause. A doctor would explain the cause in terms of impaired organ functionality, blood loss, or a brain aneurysm. Whatever the case, we understand that the presence of an illness or the immediate consequence of an accident is what led that person’s body to begin the process of dying. Death is as perilous to define as it is to touch. Without being cognizant of your audience, your very attempt to define it may prove deadly. As Patrick Shen’s film explores, the collision of death-knowledge between people has arguably generated the most physical death of any idea exchange.
If your basic idea of “DEATH” differs from mine, you are putting my eternity at risk. Therefore, I would rather enforce death upon you than accept a possible flaw in the “forever” I have planned for my future existence. The answer to this question is not only unique for each human being, it is also totally intangible, as our awareness of “DEATH” is comprised of a network of ideas, images, dreams, and experiences, both direct and indirect. The proposition that we have learned “Death” also presumes that it escapes our natural instinct, or what can be referred to as intuition. Would we be terrified or even aware of the possibility of “DEATH” But if we imagine our personal construction of “DEATH” as an island, pondering the landscape and surrounding waters enables us We hold nothing intrinsic to prepare us for a demise we know is inevitable but have no way to understand.
Each religion is its own purveyor of death-knowledge, as wide in range as the rites which enact its unique dogma.
The Judeo-Christian approach of Western society structures death around systems that, pending further discussion, I’ll call “Deeds and Weeds.”
Deeds are acts of goodness, reaffirming our desire to live as upstanding, moral individuals. Weeds are acts that counter or negate goodness, confirming the impossibility of our perfection as human beings in our physical and emotional behavior. Deeds are rewarded with love and salvation, weeds with punishment and damnation (or if not damnation, the necessity of atonement and contrition.)
This duality is incredibly powerful, and yet also incredibly limited in its conception of reality as black and white. In further delving into ourselves, this dual nature that is constantly revisited in our society (i.e. Heaven/Hell, Man/Woman, Right/Wrong, Good/Evil) begins to blur, leaving us open to the exploration of more complex possibilities.