Wednesday, August 31, 2016

#244 / Happy Dying

The photo above is one in a series of photos about the "Happy Dying" movement in South Korea. The photo appeared in one of the periodic editions of The Atlantic Photo. Here is an explanation that accompanied the series of images. To see them all, click the "Happy Dying" link above.

While South Korea’s economy has experienced strong growth in recent decades, another troubling statistic has grown as well. For years now, South Korea has had the second-highest rate of suicide in the world. Public and private programs have been developed to address the problem, and one getting notice lately is called “Happy Dying.” The program, led by Mr. Kim Ki-ho, brings participants together to reflect on their lives by experiencing their own fake funeral. They write their own eulogies, make out mock wills, and pen farewell notes. Then, they dress in traditional burial linens, climb into coffins in a darkened room, and meditate on their lives for 30 minutes. Responses vary, but many said that acting out their own deaths made them appreciate their lives more, and to consider the consequences of their deaths more seriously.

Our life is a gift that is given to us (and it is certainly not something that we ourselves create). Things we create, and over which we exercise the dominion of the creator, we might discard or reject with little cause for reflection or regret; at least, so it seems to me. What I make, I can choose to throw away. Our creations belong to us, and only to us. The "human world," for instance, that we collectively create, is a world that we feel free to change, discarding what is no longer serviceable, or what we no longer find appealing, and that is exactly how we should feel about it. Destroying the World of Nature, which we did not create, is a different matter.

Whatever is true in the case of things that we ourselves create, some different rule applies in the case of gifts; at least, so it seems to me. While a gift might, strictly speaking, "belong to us," once it has been given to us, we sense a responsibility to the giver. We sense, I think, that we owe an allegiance and responsibility to keep and maintain the World of Nature; this is, again, a good example and reminder. 

But think of this, too: How many ill-formed ashtrays, or little glazed figurines, given to a father or mother by his or her children, are still adorning the parent's shelves at the time the parent dies? Why do we keep them, beyond the time of their serviceability, if not because we feel a deep sense of connection to the giver, and so, by keeping them, acknowledge the importance, to us, of the person who gave them to us.

I think I would have thoughts like this, if I lay in the dark box, dressed for death. 

I think I would cry to know, in that dark, the beauty of all the gifts of life.

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1 comment:

  1. Reading this just one week after my father's death made it even more meaningful. Thanks, Gary.


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