• Matthew Emerson

Should we Fear the Reaper?

"Seasons don't fear the Reaper, nor do the wind, the sun, or the rain..." (Don't Fear the Reaper)

I was driving the other day and the classic song "Don't Fear the Reaper" by the Blue Oyster Cult came on. Aside from being an absolute banger, I think there is a lot that can be gained from reflecting on the title. Should we fear the grim reaper?

This summer I've had the great opportunity to study grief and loss more academically through my school's certification program. It's a fascinating albeit morbid (literally) topic. Death also has a lot to do with my favorite school of psychology, that being existentialism.

Death is a definitely a scary thing. We are beings that exist, and death is passing into non-existence (we'll ignore the spiritual side of this for now). To even begin to picture nothing is a headache inducing exercise. Given that the minute you start to picture nothing you realize you're picturing something. Frustrating isn't it? This is why death strikes such fear in the hearts of us all. Not existing is something that we can't even begin to comprehend, and death is the great act of non-existence.

We all live our lives as if we're unique in that way. We all walk around afraid of death, as if our neighbors aren't doomed to the same fate as us. Spoiler alert: we're all going to die. I think the greatest maladaptive behavior we can fall into is living our lives as if we aren't going to die. What does that help? What does this great act of denial do to aid us? It forces us to fall into a whole host of bad behaviors and practices that continually do more harm than good. So, why live as if we aren't going to die?

Consider this, what if we lived are lives knowing that we were going to die.

This shifts our lifestyle from one grounded in denial to one grounded in acceptance. Once the certainty of death remains on our mind (remember death), we are finally free to live our lives. This also means something else. Now that we know we're going to die, we can live our lives in a way that will give us a good death. When a noble death is your ambition, it is a great curb to your own stupidity. Now we can live our lives preparing for our last great moment. Our last draw of breath. Now that we know we are going to die, everything in our life takes on a new character of meaning. What we do really impacts things.

But then one might ask: what about when we don't get to have a noble death? What about when life truly gets in the way and ruins our own death (Ex. Mr. Incredible). Well, it doesn't matter. We're all going to die. That leaves open the possibility that we may not die the way that we want. This is why this is first about acceptance. We submit to the fact that we are going to die, and further that we may die in a way that we don't like. It's a horrid truth, but it's the truth all the same.

So, should we fear the reaper? I argue no. He's coming all the same. So we can either board up our doors and hide, or be waiting for him with a cup of coffee. What will you choose?

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