Darling Erica Jong broke a million taboos in the 70’s with her book “Fear of Flying”. Back then it was about sex. In 2015 she published another book about an even tougher subject – “Fear of Dying”. I had the privilege to hear her talk about that book in London a few days before its release.
She talked about death as if it was something she had only just discovered. Since then I haven’t been able to shake off the thought that maybe I was ahead of her on this one. It’s a rather odd feeling that my philosophical idol and role model struggles with a subject that to me is so uncomplicated.
While she – or her alter ego – was busy jetting around the world enjoying innumerable zipless fucks, I had to encounter premature death very early in my life. That gave me the opportunity to come to terms with our inevitable end as early as in my 20’s.
My approach to death is easy. There are two scenarios. Scenario 1 is that there is no life after death. So, there is nothing. Nothing to be afraid of, but all the more reason to make the best of life here and now. Scenario 2 is that there actually is life after death. Isn’t that a lovely idea? We’ll get to meet all the loved ones we’ve missed for such a long time. Not to mention all the interesting personalities from history. If you think about it, most people are dead.
My own death doesn’t worry me at all. Cause of death is something completely different, though. Accidents, illnesses or sitting lonely and handicapped wasting away in my very old age, incapable of helping myself – those are scary. Even more scary is the death of my nearest and dearest. Death is scary for the living, not for the dead.
Having heard Ms Jong talk about death and subsequently read her book I realised that most people have a much more complicated relationship to death. It seems that we lie to ourselves and others to avoid the terminal issue. A lot of the stress for modern humans is about avoiding death. We’re so afraid to die that we actually forget to live.
Anti-ageing products are only one example of this silly anxiety. And if you ask me, the term anti-ageing in itself is a contradiction in terms. If you don’t age, you… die. But that’s a whole other blog post.
“Fear of Dying” is a very good book and everyone should read it. We should get talking about death, just as we no longer shy away from discussing sex. If we could let death come out of the cupboard a lot of anxiety would vanish from our lives. That would make us brave enough actually to enjoy life while we have it.