I used to find myself confused when I thought of all the suffering in this world. I thought there must be some sort of line, some place where a person can’t take anymore; almost like a requirement. Like ‘Oh, you have 35 degrees of suffering. Oh, well, would you like to die now?’
I used to fantasize about death; think that respite from life some sort of retreat at a great resort, offering pain-free-days lounging out in the sun, enjoying… well, certainly not living.
And there’s the paradox; the inconsistency. It’s apparent in the logic employed by all who share the goal of euthanasia, or suicide, or even murder (but for consistence’s sake, we’ll not go there). Some can argue and say that under certain conditions life isn’t worth living – that it’s better, more peaceful to die (I believe ‘humane’ is the word tossed around a lot). I’d like to contend that they are certainly wrong. So long as you are still living, you have a duty; you are required to live out the rest of your days with honor, thumos and fidelity. And although I believe in an afterlife, I certainly do not believe in throwing that truth in someone’s face; let alone shoving it down their throats and forcing them to swallow.
Life is a gift; it is not a right. It’s a gift that many, many have taken from them (children, victims, the sick and elderly). So how can one somehow discover that the option of ‘taking one’s own life’ is somehow on the table, when in-front of them they also have the option of not dying open?
We all have intuitions about this sort of situation. When a wealthy westerner (or anybody, really) smashes up his car because he wants a new one, or tears his clothes, or throws away perfect food, I think there’s this universal feeling of injustice. Why? Well, because there are people out there who don’t have the luxury of such choices. People all over the world are starving, naked and without transportation. Throwing away perfectly fine clothes, or food, or cars is not only irresponsible, but unethical. And most if not all people share this sentiment – all you have to do is watch the Kony2012 video on YouTube to see what I’m saying.
So how does this pertain to life? Well, we live in an age of forgotten mortality. With the advent of modern medicine and the drastic decrease in infant mortality rates and general increases trending towards an average 82 years of life for most healthy people, we have forgotten that one day were going to die. Humans are rife with such proclivities: the proclivity to forget, to ignore, to exercise indifference, to focus attention (and conversely, un-focus attention). We are so busy that we forget how precious life is. Why is ‘depression’ a household illness? Everyone I know has either had depression, or has a family member who has depression. Most of those people have been suicidal, many have attempted, and an unlucky number have succeeded.
We’ve grown weak. We’ve forgotten what its like on the Savannah We’ve forgotten that were going to die, and we ignore the fact that a little over 150,000 people die a day. Many of those deaths are accidents, some are suicides, some are murders and some, unfortunately are innocent children.
So I’m going back to the ‘greedy westerner’ example for insight: why do we think it’s right to throw away our lives when so many have had theirs taken from them? How is that just? How is that ethical?
It’s not; it’s downright selfish. Not only is it selfish, but its cowardly.
[Now, I think I should take a moment to explain that statement. I’m not a black and white thinker, but my spectrum of understanding on this matter leans more to one side than the other. I’m not a post-modernist, so I don’t think we should just sit back and let everyone do what they want no matter what. So I do have empathy, more than you could know, and more than I’m probably displaying right now. Because guess what, I’ve been there. I’ve been there, and I’ve been back. IT wasn’t until the prospect of death was made real, and was taken from me, that I began to realize how foolish and ignorant I was, wanting to die, to kill myself. Every day I fear that it will be my last. I live in agonizing, horrendous pain. My life is severely limited. Yet I still push on. I’ve learnt so much. And If I’m given another 10-20 years, I’ll be the happiest person on this planet.]
In the end, what I’m really what I’m advocating for is time; if you have time, Just weather the storm. Just wait it out. Things will get better.
There’s a trick I’ve learned that really helps in those moments when you just feel like you can’t take anymore: look back at the situation, step away from it, with another lens. ‘How much stronger am I for holding on and fighting, and pushing forward? How much more will I inspire others who are going through similar things?’ By fighting through, and doing so with a brave face, were making their life easier. We’re providing for them what many so desperately wanted (a quick fix when we’re at our lowest and feel like we can’t keep pushing on).
My conclusion is simple: life is ALWAYS worth living. Because so long as you are still living, you’re luckier than the 55 million who die every year. We have a duty first and foremost to ourselves. Things pass, and everything changes. You’ll learn to appreciate your illness, you’re pain – it’s the best instructor I could ever ask for; I’ve learned more about myself, and life, and living in the past six months than most do in a lifetime. That’s real power. You can find the power you feel you’ve lost by just embracing the pain, talking and sharing your problems, and having a little patience.
I’m not confused about the suffering in this world. Yes it sucks; it’s hard and lonely. But suffering alive is so much better than the ‘peace’ of death.
Life is complicated. The answers to these questions are complicated. The fact that I’ve just scratched the surface indicates how truly complicated this is. But complicated is good. Complicated means there are a plethora of choices to choose from. Complicated means that there isn’t one, but a multitude of answers buried somewhere out there waiting to be unearthed.
And at the end of the day, if you can’t live your life for yourself; you can’t find some reason to keep living for yourself: live for others. Modify Pascal’s wager here. It will be worth it, I promise.