What awaits us at the end of this mortal journey? Is death like a deep sleep, or is it the exact opposite, a waking-up from a deep sleep? There are many different ways of viewing death, and each has its own unique consequences to how we spend life.
……A Deep Sleep. This metaphor takes some of the fear away from death: it’s just a very long nap. Every time we sleep and dream, we’re practicing for the inevitable departure from the mortal coil. When you close your eyes at night, for awhile you bid farewell to the world, and the same is true of the Final Slumber.
……A Climax. If life is a play or a movie, then passing away is kind of like the big dramatic climax. They say your life flashes before your eyes in the final moments; maybe that’s something like a Hollywood montage. One of the consequences of this metaphor is that you shouldn’t let your final moments occur in bed. That’d make for a pretty lame climax. Let the reaper find you on a battlefield, or doing something cool and dangerous.
……An Awakening. As the song goes: “Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream, merrily merrily merrily, life is but a dream.” If our time in this world is just a slumbering reverie, then when we die, we must re-awaken in some higher dimension where we went to sleep in the first place. Maybe you’ll even forget all this life, just like you forget a dream. Or, more likely, you’ll hang on to just some fleeting memories: the face of a loved one, the intensity of an emotion.
……The Void. Total annihilation, the total cessation of existence. It’s difficult to get a grasp on what this would be like, since it’s totally unlike anything we’ve ever experienced. Should we fear the void? On the one hand, it seems like we should be mortally afraid, and yet, there’s nothing to fear: we won’t experience the nothingness because the experience of nothingness would itself be something. We won’t be there to experience it.
……A Gift. The Silmarillion, J.R.R. Tolkien’s prelude to the Lord of the Rings, tells how the creator of the universe designed the two races of Elves and Men. He gave the Elves incredible beauty, skill, knowledge, wisdom, strength, eternal life… it seems at first glance that the race of Men was totally screwed by comparison. But the creator gave men their own gift, and that is death; and it’s said that, as time wears ever onward, even the gods themselves will envy this gift! It makes sense, if you think about it. Life is awesome, but we’re not designed to exist eternally. Even ignoring things like the eventual burning-out of the sun, mankind would eventually go insane if not for the graceful relief of dying.
……Game Over. If life is a game, then death is the end of the game. It makes me wonder whether there are “save points”. In a video game, when you die, you can go back to the last time you “saved”. Of course, I don’t remember ever dying and reloading, but that makes sense, because reloading at a savepoint would also reload my memories, wiping away the memory of dying. When you play a tough videogame, you might watch as your party dies over and over, but to the party itself, it seems like everything went smooth
……Judgment. A common idea is that when we pass away, we’ll be judged for our behavior in this lifetime. This is a very useful notion, not for you and me, but for the people who want to control us. Personally, this doesn’t make any sense to me. Judgment is usually attributed to some legislative deity, but it just doesn’t make sense that an all-powerful entity would have any interest in punishing puny mortals. If there is a creator, I can’t help but think of him like a voluntary game programmer, whose sole purpose in creating the universe is for “players” to “log in” and have lots of fun.
……Forgetting. Whether or not there’s an afterlife, the one thing we can say for certain is that we won’t have access to our physical memories. That’s because they are stored in a physical brain, and after we die, our brains crumble to dust. It’s weird to try to imagine this. One of the things you’ll forget is all spoken language. The words and grammar of English are carved into my gray matter, but they won’t outlive me.
……The End of the Universe. To the solipsist, the universe is only here because you’re here to observe it. When you die, the universe too will cease to be. In a sense, this is objectively true: the universe is experienced a little differently by each of us, so at least the universe as you see it will evaporate.
……Life. Whether as explicitly as reincarnation, or as subtly as the circle of life, death is rebirth and life. Birth and death accompany each other perfectly: one never exists without the other, and in that sense, the two are one.