I recently had a discussion with friends about death. One of them was saying that life used to be cheaper, but the other one (and I) didn't agree. There are places where human life is still extremely cheap--there are people in 'civilized countries' who consider human life to be very cheap. It wasn't that life was cheap, it was that death wasn't hidden. You could walk down a street and see corpses (you still can in some places, but they get cleaned up more quickly and there's a system in place to deal with them). My point was that more people are now considered human. People could walk by those corpses in the street because they were the poor, they were trash, they were sub-human. It's become less and less acceptable to have that attitude, and it's able to be applied to fewer and fewer people. I'm not saying that we should go back to the bad old days where people died all the time and it wasn't an individual tragedy every time because...people died all the time. If you grieved that deeply for everyone you knew who had died, you could never get on with your life. I heard once that humans only truly grieve for about fifteen people, because that's the size of family groups our ancestors had. If you whipped through those before you were out of childhood, you'd be a pretty emotionless adult! Maybe it was different. Maybe they really were able to go, "Nuts, lost another baby! Let's get makin' another!" I don't know.
But now we've almost become the opposite. We've become obsessed with living. Not with being alive, just with living--for making our hearts pump blood for as long as possible. We stuff our old people in homes, fill them with tubes, so they can last that extra month. And in some cases it's a great thing, because they'll recover or they'll get to see their grandkids that one last time. But at what point does quantity of life outweigh quality? At one point do we become so obsessed with a state of not-dying that we're not actually living? How much do we miss out on because of fear?
One thing I've always found fascinating is post-mortem photography. Seriously. Check it out. These are just portraits of people who just happen to be dead. And that's my point. Why can't we have memorials like this, show things like this to our children? They shouldn't live their lives in fear of death, they should live their lives...and know that they will die someday.
My point is, it's going to happen if you're in denial or not.
So I don't think that people who watch accidents are morbid freaks, or people who watch Faces of Death or even horror movies. In many ways, modern society has taken away our ability to watch the natural world. How many of us have even seen a chicken being slaughtered? But that's where we came from. I would be more worried if people weren't curious. I'm not saying that we should traumatize people--when I was nine or so, my mother decided that we could only continue eating meat if we either a) went to a slaughter house or b) killed a rabbit. Luckily we didn't. But if someone makes a choice to explore their natural world, to learn more about something that will happen to them, to someone they love (to everyone they love, given enough time) why do we now look at them like they're perverse? We have lost our connection to ourselves, to the cycles that created us that we are still very much a part of. We stuff our dying into hospitals (I don't mean people that we're trying to save. I mean terminal cancer patients, people who are not walking away). Wouldn't they rather die at home, surrounded by loved ones? I know I would. But we might upset someone. We can't bring death home with us.
I recently re-read Neil Gaiman's brilliant Sandman series. My favorite character has always been Death, I've had a huge crush on her since the very first. I'm sure that says more about me than anything, but I was also very impressed by his concept of the Necropolis, a whole realm or dimension of undertakers. They spend their lives surrounded by death, but they learn to respect it and not let it become a job, while not having it bother them.
My point? I don't know if I have one. If I do, it's this: we are part of the cycle of birth and death. We cannot foreseeably remove ourselves from it, and an insistence on doing so just causes friction.
Listening to: Mein Teil by Rammstein