How Death Affects People’s Daily Lives
MOST people are very much concerned about what affects their lives and that of their families right now. But few are willing to speak or to think extendedly about death.
True, death is not a bright prospect, but it has a definite effect on one’s daily life. Who of us has not experienced the grief and deep sense of loss over the death of a dear friend or beloved relative? A death in a family can change the family’s entire pattern of life, destroy a stable income and cause loneliness or depression for the survivors.
Unpleasant though it may be, death is a daily occurrence with which you must reckon. You cannot prolong certain actions indefinitely. Tomorrow may be too late.
How has this affected you? Do you at times feel pressured by the shortness of life to try desperately to get all that you can out of it? Or, do you take the fatalistic view, concluding that, well, what will be will be?
THE FATALISTIC VIEW
Many people today believe that life and death are governed by fate. This is a basic concept of more than 477 million Hindus. In fact, fatalistic views are practically universal. Have you not heard people say, ‘It just had to happen,’ ‘His time was up,’ or, ‘He escaped because his number wasn’t up’? Such statements are frequently made in connection with accidents. Are they true? Consider an example:
During a demonstration flight at the Paris Air Show in 1973 the Soviet Union’s supersonic airliner TU-144 exploded, killing its crew. Large sections of the aircraft hurtled down upon the village of Goussainville, France. One woman there had just shut the bedroom door behind her when a part of the wreckage came smashing through the outside wall, completely demolishing the bedroom. She was unharmed.
Others did not escape. The victims included an elderly woman’s three grandchildren, but not the grandmother.
Did those children and others die because their “number” or their “time” was up? Were others spared because fate was not due to claim them until later?
Those answering “Yes” to these questions believe that nothing anyone might do can prevent a person’s death if his ‘time is up.’ They feel that, despite any precaution taken, they simply cannot escape what fate dictates. This is a view similar to that of the ancient Greeks who considered man’s destiny to be controlled by three goddesses—Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos. Clotho supposedly spun the thread of life, Lachesis determined its length and Atropos cut it off when the time was up.
Is such a fatalistic outlook reasonable? Ask yourself: Why do the number of accidental deaths decrease when safety regulations are obeyed and increase when they are disregarded? Why can the majority of traffic deaths be demonstrated to result from human carelessness, drunkenness, error or lawlessness? Why is it that in countries with high standards of hygiene and good diet people have a far greater average life-span than in countries lacking these things? Why do more smokers than nonsmokers die of lung cancer? How could all of this be due to blind fate over which there is no control? Instead, is it not the case that there are reasons for what happens to man?
With many accidental deaths, is it not a matter of a person’s just happening to come into a dangerous situation? To illustrate: A man leaves his home at a certain time each workday. One morning, as he passes a neighbor’s house, he hears screaming and shouting. He speeds up his walking and, just as he turns the corner, he is hit by a stray bullet. His death is due to his being at the corner at the wrong time; the circumstance was unforeseen.
Having observed what really happens in everyday life, the wise writer of the Bible book of Ecclesiastes said: “I returned to see under the sun that the swift do not have the race, nor the mighty ones the battle, nor do the wise also have the food, nor do the understanding ones also have the riches, nor do even those having knowledge have the favor; because time and unforeseen occurrence befall them all.”—Ecclesiastes 9:11.
The person who appreciates this does not disregard safety regulations and take needless risks, thinking that he is immune to death as long as his “time” is not up. He realizes that a fatalistic view can be dangerous, both to himself and to others. This knowledge, wisely applied, can add years to your life.
On the other hand, a fatalistic outlook can lead to foolhardy actions, and it can also cause a person to be negligent about informing himself as to matters that may deeply affect him and his family.
LIVING ONLY FOR THE PRESENT
Besides the fatalistic outlook, the events of the twentieth century have influenced people’s actions.
Consider for a moment what has happened. Millions have perished as victims of war, crime, riots and famine. Life-sustaining air and water are being polluted at an alarming rate. Seemingly from every quarter man’s life is being threatened. And there is nothing to give real assurance that mankind will be able to solve its problems in the near future. Life seems so uncertain. What is the result?
Many of earth’s inhabitants are living only for the present, to get everything possible out of today. They feel impelled to do so, reasoning that the life they have now is all the life they can ever hope to have. Aptly the Bible describes their attitude: “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we are to die.”—1 Corinthians 15:32.
In an endeavor to escape the harsh realities of life, they may turn to alcohol or drugs. Others try to find an outlet for their frustrations and concern over the shortness of life by personally indulging in sexual experiences of all kinds-fornication, adultery, homosexuality, lesbianism. Says the book Death and Its Mysteries:
“It seems that more normal people today are affected by this fear of collective death, at least unconsciously. This is at least a partial explanation of the disarray of our times, which is expressed in gratuitous crime, vandalism, eroticism and the accelerated pace of life. Even modern music and dances seem to express the despair of a humanity that no longer believes in its own future.”
What has been the effect of all such living for the present as if there may be no tomorrow?
Those given to heavy drinking and drunkenness may temporarily forget their troubles. But they sacrifice their dignity and, while intoxicated, at times injure themselves or others. And the next day they find that they have added an agonizing headache to the troubles that they already had.
Drug addicts, too, pay a high price for their efforts to escape reality. They often experience lasting physical and mental harm. And, to support their costly habit, they may find that they are degrading themselves by engaging in theft or prostitution.
What about promiscuous sex relations? Do they help to improve one’s lot in life? To the contrary, the fruitage is frequently a loathsome venereal disease, unwanted pregnancies, illegitimate children, abortions, a broken home, bitter jealousy, fighting and even murder.
Of course, many persons have not succumbed to living a debauched life. Still they have not escaped the pressure that comes from realizing, consciously or subconsciously, that their life will end. Knowing that time is limited, they may seek to get ahead in the world just as quickly as possible. With what result? Their desire for material possessions may prompt them to sacrifice personal honesty. As the Bible proverb truthfully states: “He that is hastening to gain riches will not remain innocent.” (Proverbs 28:20) But that is not all.
So much time and energy are used in getting ahead materially that there is little time to enjoy one’s family. True, the children may be getting all the material things that they want. But are they getting the guidance and correction they need in order for them to become responsible young men and women? Many parents, while realizing that time spent with their children is somewhat limited, really see no reason for special concern—until it is too late. Yes, it is agonizing to learn that one’s own son has been arrested or that one’s own teen-age daughter is going to be an unwed mother.
From what is happening today, is it not obvious that, despite the shortness of life, many people need to learn a more satisfying way to live?
The apparent inevitability of death does not make everyone throw moral principles to the wind, nor does it produce a fatalistic apathy in all persons. To the contrary, hundreds of thousands today are enjoying a wholesome way of life because of not being adversely, affected by the prospect of death.
A BETTER WAY
Viewed aright, death can teach us something valuable. When death claims victims, we can benefit from thoughtful contemplation about the way we are living our own lives. Some three thousand years ago a careful observer of humanity highlighted this, saying: “A name is better than good oil, and the day of death than the day of one’s being born. Better is it to go to the house of mourning than to go to the banquet house, because that is the end of all mankind; and the one alive should take it to his heart. . . . The heart of the wise ones is in the house of mourning, but the heart of the stupid ones is in the house of rejoicing.”—Ecclesiastes 7:1-4.
The Bible is not here recommending sadness in preference to rejoicing. Rather, the reference is to the particular time when a household is in mourning over the death of one of its members. It is no time to forget the bereaved and to proceed with one’s own feasting and reveling. For, just as death has ended all the plans and activities of the deceased, it can do the same for ours. A person does well to ask himself: What am I doing with my life? Am I building up a fine name or reputation? How much do I contribute to the happiness and well-being of others?
Not at birth, but during the full course of our life, does our “name” take on real meaning, identifying us as to what kind of persons we are. The person whose heart is, as it were, in a “house of mourning” is one who gives heartfelt consideration to the way he is living his life, regardless of how short it may be. He treats it as something precious. He does not reflect the shallow, reckless spirit characteristic of a place of revelry. Rather, he exerts himself to lead a meaningful, purposeful life and thereby contributes to the happiness and welfare of fellowmen.
How can anyone determine whether he is now enjoying the best way of life possible for him, whether he is truly living a purposeful life? Certainly a standard of judgment is needed. In increasing numbers sincere persons throughout the earth are coming to the conclusion that the Bible is that reliable standard. Their examination of the Bible has enabled them to find real purpose in life now and it has given them a grand hope for the future, a hope that involves life under righteous conditions on this very earth. They have come to realize that, not death, but life is God’s purpose for mankind.
[Picture on page 11]
Does fate control your life, as the ancient Greeks believed?