To reach some understanding of the important affects that death can have, we must first explore the devastatingly real shock that the end of something so permanent as life must provide. No one can ever truly know what the feeling of death is like until they actually feel it for themselves, but for the purpose of this exercise, let us imagine what it must closely resemble. Words such as afraid, daunting, intimidated, unsure, confusion, hopelessness, sorrow, and countless others spring to mind. The actual realization that death is very near must be unbearably weird, for it is something that is as much a part of life as birth, yet is totally unprepared for in our culture, as evidenced when Morrie says, “Everyone knows they’re going to die…but nobody believes it. If we did we would do things differently”(Albom81). We as a society are too consumed by material possessions, money, and status and the way in which these ends are met leaves little time for people and the development of relationships--which is the key to leading a meaningful life. In fact, if our culture was not so caught up in these petty worries, people would care more about how others would like to be treated. The sense of common courtesy and decency that has evaporated from our selfish society would replace the constantly critical, mean, and rude attitudes that prevail in our communities, therefore making our world a kinder place to live in. After the conscious comprehension that life will end, there must exist some element of becoming at peace with the world and accepting the inevitable. Just knowing for certain that no miracle of everlasting youth will be blessed upon one’s soul would lead to an overall acceptance of the way our world functions and one’s dynamic role in it. Then, through reflection and philosophizing change can occur.
The metamorphosis that takes place seems as if it would be so consuming that no area of one’s life would be left untouched by this newfound perspective on life. Petty concerns and worries are probably replaced by an overwhelming need to understand what happens after death has conquered the physical form. A sense of deep enlightenment would seem to fill the body and soul as one realizes the truly important things in life: God, family, friends, and emotions of love, happiness, and the sort. And then the actualization of this knowledge would create a need to apply such a perfect philosophy to one’s way of life before it is too late in order to better the world and develop a more perfect environment for others to enjoy. All these realizations would be so strong that they would not even be in the same league as the type that may seem monumental at the time, but just wear off in a few weeks. “No way I could go back. I am a different self now…in terms of trying to grapple with…the ultimate questions, the ones that won’t go away” to put it in Morrie’s words (174-175). This would be permanent change. After someone has experienced such a near death encounter and value shift, a sense of wanting to help others see this light at the end of the tunnel must overwhelm the soul. This is achieved in the fashion by which Morrie conveyed his deep sense of knowledge and wisdom gained in the midst of death to his friend Mitch. It takes conversations and bonding experiences between close friends to transfer this enlightenment. And if one person can help change another, and then another, and another after that, soon a domino effect will occur, and a greater number of people will live their lives as if they have their priorities straight according to a true consciousness of death, thus making our world a better place.
Imagine how everyone would treat each other if all of humanity existed in a state that was fully aware that death could consume them at any moment. Do you think that people might treat each other with a little more love and compassion? Do you think someone might actually help that starving homeless person on the street corner instead of just tossing him a quarter out of guilt? This world might be a nicer place to live in if that were the case. But, of course, it is not, nor will it ever be, because it is easier for the masses to ignore that truth and just continue with their petty, selfish lives, only bothering to worry about day-to-day concerns instead of lifetime goals. Not to say that anyone is perfect or that all people are bad, this is just how individuals and societies function. But death helps one become free from societies vice of pain and anguish. By experiencing a near death realization people can change and create a more perfect way of life in this world.
While it is true that people change every day, and at the same time life goes on seemingly as normal as ever despite this fact, no transformation of self is as radical and pervasive as that which results from looking deep into the eye of the storm that is death. People cannot ever fully understand the meaning of life on this earth, nor can those who have never had a close encounter with death truly explain its significance. “Learn how to die, and you learn how to live” is something that Morrie always said and it cannot be expressed in a better way (83). However, there is no doubt that within the context of realizing that one’s life will end soon one gains the closest appreciation to the truth about the mystery of life. Given this truth it would be only natural for one to question its real importance, for it may seem to be merely a useless adventure in self examination if this knowledge cannot be applied to making the world a better place seeing as it may only be found on the very edge of a lifetime. But this is where the real lesson comes into play.
Just as Mitch journeyed back to Morrie in the hopes of providing some type of support for his tragic situation and ended up gaining the knowledge of an enlightened man on his deathbed, we as a society need to view visiting the old and dying not as a pathetic gesture of pity, but instead as an opportunity to learn from their collective experience. The bulk of society, and especially people who stand in positions capable of establishing great change, like politicians and the wealthy, need to receive the same insight into life that Morrie and others who have experienced a waking up to death are given. Those who reach this enlightened state of understanding must be willing to teach their new philosophies before it is too late and everyone else needs to be willing to listen. The extreme change and understanding that is reached through the realization of death is much too valuable of an experience to not be shared with all. Just imagine how much of a better place our world would be if everyone could go through the transformation that Morrie and Mitch took on.
Albom, Mitch. Tuesdays With Morrie. New York: Doubleday, 1997.