The Death of Death

Once again killing on a great scale has been taking place, this time in a land in which Paradise is said to have once lay--the valley between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Today's killing is no worse than history's countless massacres, perhaps even more restrained. Some suggest that it was necessary to forestall future killings. In any case, it is the sad, solitary privilege of human beings to kill our own consciously, as well as to commit suicide.

This is so, we can rightfully assume, because human beings are the only beings that comprehend death--that of others as well as our own. We all know that we will die one day. "You are one being among many/Only you hang on to Beauty/And know: you must part," wrote the poet Reiner Kunze. This knowledge penetrates every moment of our lives. Media in vita in morte sumus - in the midst of life, we are surrounded by death--went a medieval song. Heidegger made the knowledge of death key to the understanding of what it means to live.

Death isolates every individual, because there is no such thing as collective dying. Everyone dies alone. Those who realize this are thus tempted to deny any meaning to human conduct; everything, it seems, is futile in the end, because in dying we leave society and society leaves us. On the other hand, only the knowledge of our mortality provides our existence with its preciousness. If we did not die, everything would lose meaning. Everything we do today, we could do tomorrow.

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