Feb 5, 2012

The Exercise for a Happy Death

Back in high school, we used to say this prayer, Exercise for a Happy Death, in our morning assemblies every month. I find it creepy that we had to recite the prayer because we were all so young and the last thing that came to our minds was the thought of someone dying. The concept of a happy death is very philosophical but also practical (yes those two words are light years away). It's about finding satisfaction with the purpose you are set forth. 
I was reviewing the blog of a friend earlier and I happened to come across one of his articles that revolves around the concept of a Happy Death. Allow me to share it to you guys (without his permission, yet). Although it may be a long read, there's really wisdom in it!
Someone asked, “what is a happy death?”
On your deathbed,
Is it being able to say, “Ah, look at all the fortune I have amassed in my life. I am rich beyond what I can spend. And today I will leave.”
Is it being able to say, “Ah, I have been famous all my life. People have idolized me, screamed at my presence, stampeded to get a glimpse of me. And today I will leave.”
Or is it being able to say, “I have done everything I wanted to do. I have partied, had as much drugs, sex, and alcohol I could. And today I will leave.”
Or finally, is it being able to say, “I have served my master faithfully throughout my life. I have done what I had to do, and I have been who I had to be. Today I will leave.”
The last is honestly the ugliest. There is nothing in the last scene to suggest that the person lived a happy life. The words “served”, “had to do”, “had to be” seem terrible to say on your deathbed. Compared to the last, the first three seemed to have lived for themselves happy lives. The last scene, however, seemed to be a wastage, for in the singular chance that he was given to live his life, he gave it up to serving his master. To do what he “had to do”, be who he “had to be”. He would have been better off living like the first three, amassing large amounts of wealth, earning as much popularity as he could, or enjoying as much as this world could offer. The three must have had truly happy deaths.
Or would they? After those last words, a lingering question that might have been haunting them throughout their lives might be shoved into them as their last thought, in the naked honesty of death.
The lingering question is: Why?
And if it were so, that the question would be their last thought, to me those wouldn’t be happy deaths, but tragedies. After the wealthy man says his last words, the question will appear in his thought as his last, and regardless whether there is after-life, it is perceivable to think that this last moment will torture him for all eternity.
“Why?” I have amassed all this wealth. Why? In this singular chance to live life, Why? Why wealth? For one can be a household name, and many could fall in love with him, but his popularity will not be able to answer the lingering question. One could have all the temporary happiness that can be obtained in this world, but in his deathbed, when the question has come to judge him, he will have had nothing to show. “Why” for the rich, when death will only make clear that his possessions are meaningless. “Why” for the popular, when he will eventually be forgotten, and even if he is remembered, he could not possibly be able to enjoy his name being mentioned or worshiped when he goes to wherever he will go on his death. “Why” for the party-addict, and truly why, for there is no conceivable reason or meaning in the manner he lived his life, aside from being incessantly dependent on external things to make him happy.
Some say true happiness is not temporary, nor dependent, but deep, and long-lasting. Others say that true happiness lies in finding things like purpose, reason, and meaning. In other words, finding the answer to “Why?”
Others, however, propose that happiness is doing what one wants to do, being who one wants to be. One’s purpose, reason, and meaning doesn’t seem to necessarily be what a person would want to do all his life. One’s purpose, reason, and meaning seems to be in the realm of what one “has to do”, or “has to be.” It would be easier to think that a happy death would be being able to say “I have done what I wanted to do, been who I wanted to be” - which is closer to the first three cases, and in stark contrast to what the last case said, “done what I had to do, been who I had to be”.
Which of the two, then, would be a happy death? Being able to look back at life and saying “I have done what I wanted to do and been who I wanted to be?” or “I have done what I had to do and been who I had to be?” The answer is both.
And being both is only possible, if somehow the purpose, reason, or meaning, is also what the person wants. If purpose, reason, and meaning is not necessarily one’s choosing, then how could one adopt these as if it were what one chose? We look at two examples:
An employee working for a boss, doing what he has to do, but only for the pay. He would not necessarily want what he has to do, but merely the pay.
Parents working, cooking, washing the clothes, dishes, house, waking up in the middle of the night to change diapers, for their children. The actions might not be at first their choosing, and they might not at first necessarily want these things, but curiously, they choose to wholeheartedly do it; what they had to do were desirable and of their choosing, therefore what they wanted, without any pay or grade or benefit to them as a person, the only persons benefiting being their children. Why?
Because they loved their children.
It seems, then, that there is one thing that could bind the two scenarios, wanting to do and having to do: Love.
It is through love that one might want to do what one has to do.
Even without benefiting from it.
Thus, the happy death is when a dying person is able to say: “Ah, I have served my master faithfully throughout my life. I have done what I had to do, and I have been who I had to be” and at the same time mean, “I have done what I wanted to do, and I have been who I wanted to be. Today I will leave.”
because, when the lingering question has shown itself again in his thought at the moment of death…
he is able to calmly answer as his last thought, and therefore for all eternity:
“I love You."

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