Saturday, March 26, 2011

And If We Fade Away, We Were Never Meant to Stay

Discussing mortality, Hitchens and a friend used to muse that there would come a day when the newspapers would come out and they wouldn’t be there to read them. 'And on that day, I’ve realised recently, I’ll probably be in the newspapers, or quite a lot of them. And etiquette being what it is, generally speaking, rather nice things being said about me.’ He shrugs. 'Just typical that will be the edition I miss. But it’s not so much that; it’s more that you’re at the party and you’re tapped on the shoulder and told you have to leave. The party is still going on, but it’s going on without you. And even people who swear to remember you are not really going to do so.

'However, put the contrary case. You get tapped on the shoulder, but guess what? The party’s going on for ever; you have to stay. And not only that, but you have to have a good time – the boss says so.’

He gives a slight shudder.

'Anything eternal is probably intolerable. One thing that makes the atheist position intellectually, and in some ways morally, superior is that we accept conclusions on the basis of reason and evidence that are not welcome to us. We don’t want to be annihilated. We just think the overall likelihood is that we will rejoin the molecular cycle when we die. We don’t wish it to be true, but we face it.’

This interview with Hitchens reminds me of another insight from Alan Watts:

The desire to continue always can only seem attractive when one thinks of indefinite time rather than infinite time. It is one thing to have as much time as you want, but quite another to have time without end... We do not really want continuity, but rather a present experience of total happiness. The thought of wanting such an experience to go on and on is the result of becoming self-conscious in the experience, and thus completely unaware of it. So long as there is the feeling of an "I" having this experience, the moment is not all. Eternal life is realized when the last trace of difference between "I" and "now" has vanished—when there is just this "now" and nothing else.

The poignant ache we feel at the thought of having to leave favorite experiences and loved ones behind doesn't have to be a bad thing, I think; it could just be evidence of a life well-lived. ("But all joy wants eternity/Wants deep, wants deep eternity."—Nietzsche) Far worse would be to exist in the life you know for a fact you have without having any such reasons to regret leaving it, and countless people are living that way right now.