Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Death is a Stranger

I can't help but think we've gone to great measures to isolate ourselves from death in our modern western civilization. In the not-too-distant past death was always there. Before the use of antibiotics death could catch up to you just from an accidental cut or scrape. Most children didn't live to see the age of 6. Many mothers died in childbirth or from the complications of childbirth. A cough and a fever could mean you'd be dead within a couple of weeks. It wasn't just Mother Nature out to get us though. We held public executions and invited the entire village or town to witness them, including children of all ages. Death was public spectacle, whether it was by hanging, drowning, beheading, burning, boiling, impaling, shooting, or electrocuting. Death was also close to home because embalming wasn't widely used until the early 20th century. Family members handled their own deceased, putting the corpses on display in their own homes until burial took place. The undertaker didn't handle the body, he only dug the grave. Death was intimate. Death is now a stranger. We pretend war is a video game and casualties are just numbers. Executions take place within prison walls, with only a handful of witnesses. We embalm and preserve, at least for a short time. Our medicines keep most of us alive in spite of Mother Nature's efforts to kill us. Death is that guy we once knew but no one talks about anymore.

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