Grigory Ryzhakov – Russian Writer

Are You Afraid of Dying?

The Dance of Death by Michael Wolgemut (1493)

Death is a part of us. We are programmed to die; this program on the level of our organism is called phenoptosis (in biological terms). Each of our cells contains the whole molecular machinery for programmed cell suicide scientifically called apoptosis. Some cells die unprepared and almost uncontrolled as a result of damage caused by infection, physical or chemical injury, – it’s called necrosis. Death surrounds us, makes us what we are, yet many of us are scared to die. This fear is a part of an instinct of self-preservation and it’s needed for animals to survive and leave a progeny. It is normal.

I have never understood it in humans though. We are more than just our instincts. We are aware of our mortality, we are self-aware in general. How can then we fear something, which is inevitable? We all know that our physical bodies die eventually, yet many of us still find death something terrible. We are still slaves of our instincts, but we can be stronger than them if we are brave enough.

To me death is a fact of life. Worry or not – we all get there. Once we get passed that logical hurdle, here’s another complication.

We find death very sad. I agree with this sentiment only to some extent. If someone is born (without being asked about whether they wanted it or not), surely he Or she deserve the right to live as long as they want (until their natural death) provided they don’t step on someone else’s right to live. So, if someone dies at a respectful age out of a natural cause – I don’t feel sad about that, I feel like – “mission accomplished”. If someone commits suicide because they wanted to die because they think it’s their time or in order to finish their suffering caused by natural events (a terminal illness) – I don’t blame them, I don’t think euthanasia is a sin either.

On the other hand, people often commit suicide because they are unhappy – I find that very sad. Surely, they should try to change their lives to find happiness or to solve their trouble instead of just terminating their lives. That’s just an extreme form of escapism, and I’m very much against that. I’m also very much opposed to the rules of life when people are driven into such a misery – they find a death the only way out.

So, to me it’s not about life or death, it’s about freedom, a fundamental right of people to freely choose whether to keep living and to die. If people have this right, I believe nothing can stop them to be happy, wealthy, successful, great, interesting, you name it.

Understanding that death is your only limit on Earth, and it’s inevitable, should be liberating. It should make us explore life in its fullness, to fight for better life for ourselves and help those around us.

Yet, around the world I see millions of oppressed people. Many of them are unhappy with how central or local government, their neighbors, friends or family treat them, yet they are afraid to stop the rule of thieves, dictators or bullies and start changing  their lives.

They fear it could get worse. A new bloody revolution, getting beaten up their husbands or fired from work. They think it’s better to suffer. I translate it – let’s rot and being used, because a possibility of change is too scary. Let our children rot too.

Do people in North Korea think this way? How can it possibly get any worse when they have already lost their most precious possession – freedom.

I think people stay oppressed because they don’t think enough about death. Memento mori, Romans used to say. We forget about how short a human life is. We forget that a life full of inaction, laziness, fear and oppression can be changed. Everyone can do it.

We can start afresh now, I mean now now, as single individuals or as a group.

Live like it’s your last day and tomorrow is the judgement day (I’m not telling you to abandon mortgage or rob the bank, just to be braver).

Make your mum proud, she gave birth to you.

Think about death and find courage to live a great life, to be in control, to reach your dreams.

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  • http://happyhonkers.wordpress.com/ Tahlia Newland

    Great post. We don’t contemplate death enough in the West, if we did we would take nothing for granted and live lives dedicated to kindness.

    • GrigoryRyzhakov

       thank you for stopping by, Tahlia! I agree with you on that.
      Interestingly, in Japan for instance, there’s a big chunk of literature is dedicated to death and it’s perceived differently. They appreciate the brief nature of life and beauty. In a way, hanami, watching sakura blossom, is like observing quick  life.

  • Jennifer Armstrong
    • GrigoryRyzhakov

       interesting concept, Jennifer. Quite related to Zen )

  • Jennifer Armstrong
  • http://twitter.com/jen_loves_books Jennifer A. Vargas

    I think people fear death because life is all that we know. It comes down to fear of the unknown. We shouldn’t fear it, we all know we will die, but we do anyway. We don’t know death, so we fear it. It’s like that Hamlet quote
    “The undiscovered country, from whose bourn no traveller returns” -Shakespeare

    We can speculate but since you can’t die and comeback people are completely mystified by the process.

    I also think it was Lucretius who said that fear of death is increased when people start thinking of themselves (buried, in the casket etc) and kinda infuse that image in their head with feelings without realizing that if they were dead they wouldn’t technically feel those things because they are, well, dead. If that kinda make sense.

    Lastly, I think fear of death boils down to people being afraid of dying before accomplishing certain dreams or goals.

    • GrigoryRyzhakov

      thank you for sharing your thoughts, Jennifer.  I  completely agree with your points. I think our perception of death is a product of our culture. There wouldn’t be a firm basis for materialism or consumerism if people realised how insignificant the material things considering how short a human life is – they’d be thinking more and caring more about happiness, love and friendship, they’d become more spiritual, instead of just pursuing materialistic goals. Or maybe they’d become someone else.