Monday, January 17, 2011

Dying young and living large

Many men treat the death of the young as uniquely tragic. I’ve heard ER physicians (on TV) say that they go all out to save the life of a young patient.

The thinking behind this is that the young have so much to lose. If they die young they will miss out on life. All that wasted potential.

And there’s no doubt something to that in its own right. But on comparative terms, how does that make the death of the young more tragic than the death of the old?

If the young lose their potential experience, don’t the old lose their actual experience? While the young lose their future, the old lose both their future and their past. What’s the value of having a full life if you lose it all at death?

Of course, the question is also bound up with your view of the afterlife. If there is no afterlife, then young and old are both in sinking ships. One sinks faster than the other. That’s all. The elderly catch up with the prematurely dead. That's all. 

Like the Titanic orphans. They survived while others perished. But death caught up with them, sooner or later. 

And even in this life, people above a certain age have very different perspectives on their past and future years. On the one hand are the folks who feel that one life is not enough. So much to do, so little time. So much they’d like to see and hear and taste and touch and read and smell, but time is running out. They are desperate. They hear the clock ticking. Louder and louder! What they’d give for just another ten good years! They feel rushed. Cheated. They have to choose between one thing and another when they’d like to sample both. Should they try something new, or revisit something old? Can’t do both. Not enough time.

And, indeed, one life can only scratch the surface. Moreover, in this life, at least, we can only experience events that happen to fall within our lifetime. In principle, there’s far more to experience, but we can’t travel back into the past, or into the future. We can’t repeat the same day in a different place.

On the other hand, you have folks for whom life is basically over before it’s half over. I’ve seen my share of middle-aged couples who are bored to death (pardon the pun). They went through the checklist of life. Dated. Married. Had kids. The kids are grown. Now what?

They have time on their hands, but they don’t know what to do with them. Haven’t we all seen people like that?

Take a guy who works a job he hates for 30 year just to get a pension. He works rotten hours. It’s all for the pension. He’s marking days off the calendar until he retires. Can hardly wait.

Then, after he retires, he’s oh-so fidgety. Bored to tears. Still gets up early, out of habit.

He and his equally bored wife may fly down to Vegas to gamble. Or go on a cruise, where they eat too much, play games, make idle chit-chat with other equally bored, middle-aged couples.

From a Christian standpoint, the afterlife is meaningful for both the saints and the damned. It is meaningful to the saints because they are restored and fulfilled. All that’s best in this fallen world was just a shadow of what awaits them in the world to come.

Damnation is also meaningful, although that’s a bit paradoxical. The life of the damned may be meaningless to the damned. Indeed, that’s no small part of the punishment.

But it’s meaningful that there are consequences for what you are and what you do. Even dire consequences are meaningful in that ominous sense.


  1. "We are all passengers on the Titanic." Jack Foster.

  2. TAM,

    Indeed. So what's wrong with me hastening your journey to the depths?