It sounds morbid, but my favorite class this semester is all about death.
In many ways, it is indeed as uncomfortable as it sounds. The many ways humanity, across our many traditions and cultures, acknowledge, or fail to acknowledge, death and all that it entails. Since it’s in the religious studies department, we specifically examine the many beliefs we hold regarding death, the process, and the aftermath.
But an important aspect of this class that I think makes it valuable is how death and life are so closely knit. We will all face death at one point or another, but our mind struggles to comprehend death’s magnitude in the world and in our own lives. We are all touched by death. It’s a natural process as an organism on this planet. And yet we shove it aside and fear even mentioning the word.
The fact that death is so hard for us to truly define plays a major factor in this stigmatization. When do we actually die? When our bodies stop working? When our minds are no longer conscious? For something as simple sounding as “the absence of life,” death is more complicated than meets the eye.
And it’s constantly occurring. We cannot begin to comprehend the numbers of people who die every moment we are still alive. In countries we might never visit, to people we’ll never meet. People younger than us, older than us. Through so many means, from old age, to disease, to accidents, to violence.
I must say, having this class in my schedule has really changed my perspective on every other class I’m taking. While I have many media-related requirements to fill so I can graduate, those classes seem so…surface-level. They focus on nitpicky details that a manmade industry has decided is correct. They promote furthering capitalism and consumerism. They focus more on numbers and data than the people behind the statistic. They leave us debating over random scenarios that, at the end of the day, leave me asking myself, “Why does this really matter in the grand scheme of things?”
The immense passion I feel walking into my class about dying and grief seems wrong. Somebody just glancing at the course title might think I romanticize the act of dying, but that is not the case. I instead am rejuvenated in discussions about our own humanity, the big questions that have left us stumped for centuries, the impact we might have on others. It’s classwork not based in assignments, but in changing perspectives about our own short existences.
As someone who does have chronic mental illness and has considered suicide in the past, I have reached a point in my journey where I am drawn to these lively (pun intended) discussions, to diving deep into spirituality and humanity and everything in between. I feel more at home in that single classroom than in any other class I have, and that to me speaks volumes.
I truly believe we should all be open to these type of uncomfortable but important conversations. In learning more about death, we can then better appreciate our lives and make the most out of them.
Because there is one more word in the title of this course beyond death and grief, and that is “growth.” We are all in our own cycles of life for an unknown length of time. And in that time we have, we should accept growth and change. We should continue to evolve and support our own personal developments. Unless you believe otherwise, all we have is this one body, one mind, one spirit. We cannot avoid the inevitable, but why not embrace that as the antithesis of life? Why not take advantage of our present stage in life and connect with others in our shared fate? Why not make others’ lives easier and leave a positive impact on the world if we are fortunate enough to do so?
Yes, my favorite class is about death. And the better I can understand and accept the death, the better I can understand and accept life.
Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie