The Big Question

“I feel my age today, Dave,” said my buddy Tom.

“I also am feeling my age today, my friend. I try to be cavalier about it but it’s a serious subject. You can’t joke about loss of vigor, increasing frailty, rising disease risk and failing cognitive faculties. Then there’s the unavoidable matter of the end of consciousness and the self—death, in other words—that’s drawing closer and closer.”

“So Dave, what’s our topic to discuss today?” said Tom, squirming on his green padded stool.

“How about: What makes people act the way they do?”

“Okay Dave, you start us off by answering that question.”

“I think it’s the fear of death, that is one of the primary driving forces of human action.”

“Anything positive about that grim thought?”

“Well Tom, the thought of inevitable demise can be a motivation to live life, while you have it, to the full. But the bugaboo at the core of the human condition is inevitable death.”

“I don’t think about death very often,” said Tom, soberly.

The barkeep brought our beers and we both took a sip.

“Tom, whether you are conscious of it or not, you are aware that we humans will die and this has a profound and pervasive effect on your thoughts, feelings and behavior.”

“So we are aware of many things because we are the smartest creatures in nature.”

“Right on Tom, because of our intellect we are aware that we exist, but we also know that someday we won’t exist. Our intellect makes us aware of the joys of being alive but the downside is the awareness of death.”

“So Dave, I guess that’s our predicament.”

“Being self-aware is wonderful BUT we pay the price because on the one hand we have an intense desire for continued existence but on the other hand we recognize the futility of this quest.”

“How do we manage this existential terror of death?”

“Two ways, Tom, cultural views and personal significance, known as self-esteem.

Cultural views are beliefs we create to explain the nature of reality to ourselves.

They are religious belief in immortality and symbolic immortality, the belief that our life works will last past our death. Ex- your writing or painting or in the memories of the living.”

“Wow! I am a good actor maybe some will remember my artistry on stage.”

“You never know, Tom.”

“What about the second way, self-esteem?”

“Our self-esteem, how we feel about our accomplishments, enables us to believe we are significant beings rather than just material creatures destined to be obliterated.”

“Thank goodness for our confidence in our self-worth.”

“That’s right Tom, we would all be quivering piles of biological protoplasm on the fast track to oblivion if it wasn’t for our creations of reality.”

“So we create effective terror management beliefs that we are valuable members of society and this helps us through the mist.”

“That’s right, my friend, we create our meaning and purpose in life. If you take away our meanings and purposes all we would have left would be the thought that we are vulnerable physical creatures that are on earth for a short time.”

Tom looked a little dejected with this discussion.

“What do you hope for Tom?”

“I hope for a sound mind in a sound body!”

“Me too, buddy.”

“I was just thinking, reminders of death are all around us everyday. Turn on the news, there is a lot of death news in the world. By middle age, grey hair, wrinkles, body aches are all reminders of how soon death is coming. So, why aren’t we cowering in our closets?”

“Because we have psychological defenses to cope with death thoughts. We suppress bad thoughts and we keep death thoughts from becoming conscious and then you tell yourself, “NOT ME, NOT NOW.”

“I’ve got it Dave, instead of thinking about death, your defenses DISTRACT you with matters like: What’s for dinner or where to go for your next holiday also how much you have accomplished.”

“Lets have one more beer for the road.”

“Hey Dave, alcohol and drugs are ways to diffuse death. By diffusing from death you separate from it. I wonder how many beers it would take to diffuse, to dim awareness and distort perceptions?”

“Don’t worry Tom, two beers just relax you.”

We both drained our beer glasses.

“So in conclusion, accepting our mortality is a means of diminishing the destructive effects of our death fears so we can appreciate everyday life.”

Tom spoke up: “Life not death is the great adventure.”

“A final word about how life is so transitory, everything in life passes fast. Evaluate your own life: Think of the moments of joy and victory in your life. Think of the moments of sorrow and defeat. Are they permanent? NO!

They all come and pass away. You are just a watcher. We are witnesses of all this. We are the perceivers. Life comes and goes. There is nothing permanent in this world. Everything changes. You have survived all the setbacks, defeats and sorrows. All have passed away. The problems in the present, they too will pass.

You are just a witness of change. Experience it and enjoy the present moment.


So now to lighten you day:

The only thing worse than growing old is to be denied the privilege.

Sing along:

For life is quite absurd,

And death is the final word,

You must always face the curtain with a bow,

Forget about your sin,

Give the audience a grin,




Also published on Medium.

5 thoughts on “The Big Question

  1. You need to get involved in life when you are old.
    You need to accept that life is transitory.
    You need to accept your mortality.
    Then you will be capable of creating the space
    where the future can happen for the time you have

  2. Smart and wise words from Dave the Wise. Words to live by and die by. I shall keep them in mind while I spend the rest of my days waiting for the sleep of death. Who knows what dreams may come when we have shuffled off this mortal coil. Wait a minute, somebody else said that. Damn, and I thought I was so smart. Oh well. Maybe next time.

  3. Tom, I wonder if it was Hamlet that said that.
    Dave the Wise said:
    “The one thing certain about life is that we must leave it!

  4. We are born, we learn, we suffer, we move on. Spiritual evolution. But life is a blast if you see it in the right way.

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