I recently reached and passed my 70th birthday. That is a point in time, not necessarily the first one, but certainly a defining moment to give more than a passing thought to your own physical mortality.
"The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labor and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away."
If you have read the Bible (not that I am advocating that as a particularly useful thing to do) and you choose to believe some or all of what it says (though, if you do, I suggest that you review your reasons for doing so rather more carefully than you may have done in reaching that position of faith) of course you would be aware of that tome's declaration, Psalm 90:10, that the 70 years mentioned in the above quote is the allotted age of man. The 'three score years and ten' for which we are led to believe that we are expected to live, and beyond which we may continue only on the basis of our own strength. The physical 'use by' date at which our various bodily bits and pieces may be expected to start wearing out, dropping off, or disintegrating, to the detriment of our continued ability to breathe, move about, or generally operate in the relatively coordinated manner that we have been used to enjoying in earlier times, should we have been so lucky.
Whether or not the 'three score years and ten' was a valid measure of longevity at the time or in the place where this was written (or added in translation), and that seems doubtful, in the intervening years this figure has been a gross exaggeration of man's actual life expectancy.
We know from records that the figure for length of life of the average American in the mid nineteenth century was not much more than 40 years and even in the mid 20th century this was still true for many nations around the world and only the privileged residents of a dozen or so very advanced societies could claim that 70 year expectation of the Psalmist. Things are different today of course with the rapid advances of medical science in the last century, drawing out life-spans in the low-eighties for the privileged with some even reaching a century or more, but even so there are still several African nations where people can expect only a sub-fifty year life-span.
We are intrinsically mortal beings (at least the animal part of us is and as for any other part I may attempt to discuss that later). That realisation may come as something of a shock when confronted for the first time. It is not part of our programming to think about such things and we generally tend to keep ourselves busy doing other things, many of them quite superfluous and unnecessary, in order to avoid that.
I can't say that I have never before considered my own death , or death in general, in fact I have read and studied quite widely on the subject in the past, but I have never worried about it or considered it to be an imminent experience for me to pass through. In fact for some years I came to consider myself as possessing a certain immunity to the effects of ageing, having led something of a charmed, healthy and accident free life for the most part after a scare or two in my early years. Throughout my fifties and early sixties I considered myself as having a good expectancy of living well past a hundred years, retaining full health and vitality right to the very end and passing peacefully at the right moment in full possession of my faculties, voluntarily relinquishing the ties to my body and stepping out joyfully and expectantly to whatever came next.
That whole paradigm came crashing down quite unexpectedly (I am still trying to rebuild it) shortly after my 65th birthday, almost as if my own 'use by' date had passed, as I have explained elsewhere. Suffice to say that I suffered a short illness as a result of a disturbance to my thyroid function which in turn disrupted my regular heartbeat into something more resembling morse-code. An effect that has remained with me to this day, five years later. I am no expert but I suspect that situation will, to some greater or lesser extent, have altered ie. shortened my longevity somewhat.
I am not afraid to die, having confronted that possibility every day for the last five years now. Dying holds no great dread, nor should it. It is part of the natural cycle of physical life. There is a beginning. There is a middle (supposed to be the fun part). There is an end. Simple. People do it all the time. I expect to talk more about that later.
Preparing for Death
I try not to think about dying too much but it is difficult not to do so when I begin to sweat profusely after a few minutes of even mild activity or work, and I noticeably tire rather quickly. As a result of my condition I have to give thought to whether and/or how I tackle the sort of jobs that I would have found routine in times past. This is not the result of age. I am fit and strong and still reasonably flexible.
I am fully cognisant that my heart could throw up its hands and down tools at any time, leaving me with no engine to operate the body I have become accustomed to using and living in. I am not afraid of that, in fact I factor that possibility into pretty much everything I do. It is the reason for my choosing to live remotely, away from all of the normal support services of civilisation. Perhaps I should explain that a little.
Some thoughts on living
Over the ages, mankind has developed certain traditions, social patterns and living habits. They differ from nation to nation, region to region, even community to community, but by and large, people are expected to adhere to these accepted norms.
In our society, you get born, most often in a hospital, you are cared for, fed, clothed, and nourished in a family environment (let it be recognised that I am generalising here of course) until you are of an age to be educated. You are subject to schooling for around 12 years (during which time you are taught the rudiments of literacy and nothing much else of any real value) and during that time you progress from being an infant and journey through your difficult adolescent years, a time during which your activities, behaviours, motives and moods are endlessly and minutely scrutinised for any deviation from accepted norms. You may go to univerisity or college, but in the end, assuming you still have the capacity to do so, you are expected to become a productive member of society by entering your working years in a career or job. The idea of this is that you will earn your keep, and use the money your labour has earned on the sort of stuff that will keep the society into which you were born as a helpless baby, to keep on growing. You will also be expected to assist that societal growth by forming a new family unit and producing more new members just as you yourself were and you will be expected to look after them until they can fulfill their expected destiny as well. And so on, ad infinitum. Eventually you will grow old and cease to be productive as a worker, but you can still be useful if you have managed to save some of your earnings from work to support you through to the end of your life by continuing to buy stuff, traveling a bit, getting sick and needing medical treatment. Spend, spend, spend, and somehow kept alive until there is not much left to spend, at which point you are allowed to die, an event which generates enormous expense for your descendents if you have not covered it yourself.
That may sound a little cynical, but it is in fact what life is all about in a modern society. You are born to be a consumer unit. That is how you are viewed. Your personal details are less important to society than the means that it uses to keep tabs on you, a set of numbers such as Tax File, credit card, bank account, Medicare, health insurance, drivers licence, and many others.
There is a 'beginning' as I said earlier. Your infancy and childhood. You are not productive during that period but society benefits greatly from it as you generate enormous amounts of expense for your forebears.
There is a 'middle', as I also mentioned. This is your productive phase when you generate enormous amounts of money, little of which you are able to keep for yourself and the things that you would personally like to do. Just enough to keep you from going off the rails, hopefully. Most of what you earn will go to the society itself, helping it to grow, either directly as taxes or indirectly as the price of purchasing consumer goods and the necessities of life, which in turn will be income for someone else to contribute from as taxes and consumption in the same way.
There is an 'end' also. In this phase, much of your wealth and further income from savings is sucked from you, largely to prolong your life for as long as possible, ultimately leading to the generation of even more expense to adequately or even profligately deal with your remains, expense that someone, if not you yourself, has to pay for.
I am now, since I retired from work at the end of 2010, well within that final phase, the 'end' part of life. Try as I might to ignore that fact, I know that is going to be increasingly difficult to do.
What has all of that got to do with my choosing to live remotely, away from all of the normal support services of civilisation? Well, unless I had gone to the trouble of explaining all of that, what I am going to say next may not have made an awful lot of sense.
Some thoughts on dying
Just a little more background is necessary I think.
Over recent years I have become more aware of the dangers of reality facing mankind in what we refer to as the 21st Century. If the reader is unsure of just what I mean by that, then a reading of some of the other posts on this blog or my other blog at Not Something Else, where many links to relevant sources may be found, may serve to illuminate the point.
With that increased awareness came responsibility. Responsibility to do whatever I can, little though that may be, to steer my life in a direction such that I make as small an impact as I can with my limited powers and resources, on the possible outcome of global events affecting us all.
This is why, since retiring four and a half years ago, I have chosen to live as simply and cheaply as I can, consuming as little of the community's goods and services as is practicable, while educating, equipping and preparing myself for the imminent probability of those same goods and services becoming increasingly unobtainable and possibly disappearing altogether at some future stage.
A not inconsiderable part of that philosophy, which I know is difficult for many people now firmly ensconced and entwined in the tendrils of the modern societal system to understand, is to not allow myself to become reliant on, and especially to not become dependent on, the established, formal, pharmaceutical industry based, health services of the nation. I have no desire (that is about the most polite descriptor I can reveal for my feelings on this) to become a zombie pill popper feeding and contributing to the power of the one thing that I believe is the greatest threat to humanity at this time. Just to be clear, I mean the Big Pharma industry not the health services, possibly unwittingly enrolled as the distributors of its nefarious wares.
Why? Simply because with its drive to prolong life, or what passes for life under its 'slow walking death' treatments that never quite cure but often, actually always, in the end (when the bank accounts have been sufficiently sucked dry) kill.
It is partly down to the greed and avarice of the system, that I object.
It is mostly because this prolonging of the lives of the elderly beyond what would naturally occur without the support of modern medicine (and yes I know we all die eventually), is artificially inflating the total world population level. I am fully aware that the ageing population is not biggest or even a significant contributor to the population explosion, but it doesn't help matters.
All of the foregoing explanation (reasoning is, of necessity, if it is to be reasonably understood, always a longer, more drawn out process than making a simple statement - why's and wherefores are important) serves to form the backdrop for my position as to why I choose to live remotely, away from all of the normal support services of civilisation.
It is simply that when my time comes, however it comes, I do not want to wake up from a coma, induced or not, and find myself connected to a bank of machines with tubes down my throat and effluent bags strapped to my body in something of a drug induced haze of never-neverland, being prodded and poked like a side of beef.
I would rather, given the choice, chance and a little premonitional warning, simply pack my bags, wander off into the bush, find a nice quiet peaceful place to camp and lie down restfully waiting for the moment to pass over, listening to the sounds of nature. Thus avoiding the discomfort of laying in a hospital bed, with no rights or privacy, in a busy, noisy, thoroughly disagreeable and unnatural environment, listening to people talking about me as if I were not there. It would also avoid a grotesquely expensive funeral.
Of course ideals are not always obtainable or offered by nature. What if my heart fails suddenly without warning? What if I fall asleep while driving? What if I am seriously injured or beaten in a house invasion? What if I fall off a ladder while cleaning my roof gutters? None of these things nor a thousand other possibilities falls within my ideal. Any do-gooder could find me in one of these dramas and ship me or arrange for me to be shipped off to hospital. Well, living where I do, in most cases it is likely that any help would arrive too late to be of any real assistance (one reason, if only a small consideration, for my choice of home), and while in these situations I might suffer some real pain, discomfort and distress for a while until passing, that would be preferable in a way to suffering a hospital recovery. If I should be found in such a situation, unconscious or comatose, I would wish it to be known that my preference would be to have it recorded that I choose a 'Do Not Resuscitate' option and the most cost effective (cardboard box burning, possibly) disposal of my remains.
I think that about covers what I wanted to say on this.
Of Gods and Men
I have never come to terms with why humans make such a fuss about dying, nor the reasons behind preserving or honouring the burial places of ancestors, and especially not the profuse expressions of grief and anguish over the simple and natural passing of another human. Lives cut short by circumstances I can understand the need for some grieving by loved ones, but beyond that it is a natural and expected part of living here in a body and on a planet governed by the laws of nature and physics. In some ways, those communities that celebrate with joy and feasting the passing of a life well lived, express the most appropriate attitude toward death.
I have never been a big believer in suffering, which is probably why I adhere to no religion since that is all they seem to offer in this life. Life is to be enjoyed, lived and expressed in whatever ways we are capable of doing.
On this world, we are gods. We possess intellect. We have dexterity (generally speaking). We are able to express emotion. We have been imbued with freedom of choice. We are strong in body and mind (again, speaking generally). We are creative and clever.
While we have often ceded those freedoms and abused those attributes, that is also the type of behaviour that we have come to expect of gods. Because that is exactly the traits displayed by those that we ourselves look up to, or in the past have looked up to as gods in many instances.
Could that be because we are the prodigy of those gods? There are many ancient tales of gods of old having intimate relations with human women, even tales of them creating us in their own image as in the Sumerian stories of the Anunnaki, linked through the god of heaven and earth, Enlil, to the now god of the three main monotheistic religions, El. Though it was Enlil's brother Ea, now seen as the serpent for various reasons, who was described as our actual friend and creator along with the sister of both of them, Nintu (aka Ninharsag or Mami).
Whatever. All of them and many other gods from different pantheons were known to be profligate sexual beings.
And many of these gods died, according to the stories about them. Often they killed each other for some mal-natured reason.
Yes, even gods die. So what have we to fear of the beyond? I would like to delve further into that and also the non-animal part of us that I mentioned earlier, and may do so at some stage, but I think this is enough for now.