Mortality and Legacy

It seems that my level of activity (or lack thereof) with this blog depends on what is going on in my day-to-day life.  With that said, a recent happening triggered some thinking which has, in turn, triggered this post (after quite the extended hiatus).

I have a lung infection.  For most of those with cystic fibrosis, this is a fairly common occurrence.  For me, it is thankfully so unusual that this is one of the only ones that I can ever remember contracting.  For the two of you or so who actually read this thing, I apologize for being about to gross you out.  Since Thursday, I have been coughing up alarming amounts of thick blood.  I have been in contact with a medical professional and will be starting antibiotics shortly.

To be totally honest (as is the goal with most of these entries), I feel scared.  It’s scary seeing what appears to be a large amount of bleeding going on.  It’s scary feeling drained of energy and feeling the need to call an after hours respirologist for advice on what to do.  Most of all, though, it’s scary to imagine that this might be the beginning of the end, in some ways.  Now, before I go coming off as a total drama king/attention whore, I’m not saying that it is for me.   I think that I will recover without incident (the bored tone of the respirologist I spoke to would seem to confirm this hypothesis), but it was still striking enough to get me started on this train of thought.

It’s upsetting to imagine that you are beginning some kind of downward spiral.  It is not difficult to imagine why this is distressing.  In one sense, though, we are always moving slowly towards the same end.  It is harsh to say, but we really do start dying on the same day we are born (from a purely biological and literal perspective).  If you are like me, the end of one’s physical body and the degradation of its tissues means the end of life and of consciousness itself.  In other words, “Steve Whibbs” dies with Steve Whibbs’s physical body (or his brain tissue, to be totally exact).  I don’t happen to believe in an immaterial soul, so I am faced with the burden of knowing that my time as a conscious person is finite.

Is this a distressing realization, in principle?  It certainly is in some measure, this is also clearly dependent on the life that you lead and your enjoyment of it.  I have canvassed this elsewhere, but the (usually religious) idea that all life and existence is sacred and an absolute, inherent good is, at best, a huge oversimplification.  Sometimes death is a merciful release into nothingness for those of us whose existence has been nightmarish for too long.  Before I get you so depressed that you close this window in disgust, I want to finish my preamble and get into the meat of my thoughts.

Someone once asked me, upon learning of my ambitions to pracrice law and of my status as a CF sufferer: why bother?  Why go to all of that work, all of that expense and all of that trouble to pursue a career that might very well be severely truncated?  Why not just enjoy what years you have left in a relaxed, playboyish type of life?  It was actually a really great question.  Ignoring the obvious (and lazy answer) that I am not independently wealthy and cannot just invent a playboy lifestyle without some kind of income, I would say that a certain, romantic sense of accomplishment is a driving factor for me.  Given that we all have a certain amount of years granted to us as physical beings of agency, it seems equally valid to say that we also have but a short amount of time to accomplish the things that will define us.

Thus, we begin to realize that living a good life and using those years well isn’t (and shouldn’t) just be about doing what seems enjoyable at every turn.  Life is as much about doing great things as it is about experiencing great things.  Adherents of Nietzsche might suggest that, by yearning to accomplish substantial things during our finite lives, we are really just succumbing to another form of enjoyment/fulfillment/selfishness.  Even if that is one day shown conclusively to be the case, it does not make much difference.  The source of our desire to DO things during our lives is not as important as realizing that desire and making sure that it is properly cultivated within us as time goes on.  Of course, wanting to be physically fit and actually taking the steps to make it so are very different prospects for most of us (to use a common and painful example).  This is a natural and healthy challenge and it should not be seriously considered as a reason to discount the urge that I am describing as not being present (in some form or other) in every human being.

I would like to be remembered as someone who was kind to others, fun to be around and who did his part to leave the world a little better off than the state it was in when I entered it.  So, yes, my legacy is important to me.  You might be wondering what legacy has to do with the above discussion about mortality and the limitations it places on success and accomplishment.  I would say that legacy is one of the few, partial routes to true immortality.  “You” as a person of agency and consciousness might perish or cease to exist as you once did, but your legacy is something that can truly last long beyond your physical self.  And, like the biblical poles of heaven or hell, what environment your legacy inhabits will depend largely on your actions (or lack of them) on Earth.

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