reverence for life & death

refugees 001.

A couple days ago, one of my readers sent me this heartbreaking image of an unfolding tragedy on a Turkish beach, an image which had gone viral in Europe and elsewhere in the world. The image has now hit the American social media.

The Kurdish boy who washed up on the beach was identified  by officials as 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi. He was in one of two boats carrying 23 people that set off separately from the Akyarlar area of Turkey’s Bodrum peninsula, apparently headed to the Greek island of Kos, where the passengers would have attempted to enter the European Union. Reports suggested that his family’s ultimate destination was Canada.

Instead, officials said, the boat capsized, and Aylan drowned and washed up a few miles to the northeast in Turkey, not far from a beach resort. The dead included five other children—among them Aylan’s 5-year-old brother—and his 35-year-old mother. The father is devastated.

I was reminded of a quote by Albert Camus: “They had not lived enough, never having lived at all.”

The photo was released on the Internet, doubtlessly to fuel outrage at the fates of migrants and political refugees looking for a better life. But it had a different effect on me. I felt no rage.

I have been reflecting for some time about how crowded our world has become.

Human population has been growing continuously since the end of the Black Death, although the most significant increase has been in the last 50 years (due to medical advancements, agricultural productivity, and abundant cheap energy). Mankind’s presence can be seen over 80% of the Earth’s land mass; we are now impacting the natural cycles and processes which govern our planet.

Most estimates for the carrying capacity of the Earth under existing conditions are between 4 billion and 16 billion. The human population of the world was recently 7 billion. By 2025 the world population is expected to grow by an additional 1 billion. By 2050, there is expected to be another 1 billion people beyond that. Depending on which estimate you use, overpopulation has likely already occurred.

How does this affect the value we place on human life, even the life of a single human child?

I have also been reflecting on death and what it really means. I am not as unfamiliar with it as most people are. I have provided hospice care for three people—two friends and my wife—and I have witnessed (directly or indirectly) the deaths of numerous other family members, friends, and strangers. I’ve learned to face it unflinchingly, to be unafraid.

Moreover, my work on behalf of parricides has led me to look on the bright side of some people exiting this world—people who were so cruel, violent, selfish, and sick of spirit that they had no business parenting kids.

My belief in reincarnation has led me to conclude that death is not as big a deal as made out by our society and most conventional religions. Life and death are not absolute experiences belonging to separate categories, but are just two sides of the same reality, seemingly polar-opposites that are but parts of a single, larger whole, two aspects of the same thing. A good death, a happy one at that, is a crowning glory to a good, happy life.

Death of the body is but a transition that affects less than 5% of who and what we are in total. As you may surmise from my last couple posts, I am attempting to develop a personal philosophy that is more accepting and embracing of this final act of life.

I have been much impressed by a statement I heard recently that we survivors owe it to those who have died not to grieve excessively, because it causes the dead to be bound to this plane and prevents them from moving on.

I wonder if I have been guilty of this transgression, this act of self-absorption? I wonder also if I have been unavailable to love others as fully as I might have done? Over the last 21 years, have I to some degree closed myself off from the wonders of the living world?

The grand unity of life manifests itself through the intriguing similarities exhibited by all living forms. Life implores and deserves reverence. Reverence for life, Albert Schweitzer’s legacy to mankind, deserves a balancing opposite, a reverence for death. In its manifold sense, this dual focus is a way towards still further reaches of human nature and human soul.

Only when we embrace death can we fully experience life.


refugees 002 - cropped.


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1 Response to “reverence for life & death”

  1. 1 Jeanne
    October 16, 2015 at 10:46 pm

    Such a very sad picture, sadder truth behind it. I wish life was kinder.

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