"Those who could tell me what it is to die,
Death, the great arbiter,
Sometime tomorrow midnight,
I may know"
-- Gabriel Dauntsey, via P.D. James & Michael Chaplin
The commonality among all living things is life. This is an obvious, simple thought, an observation so unremarkable that it barely registers. Nevertheless, it fascinates me from time to time. Just as much as we look for things that unite us, we also look for things that differentiate us from one another. Death is one such ultimate divide.
I strive to find common ground with others, even (and sometimes especially) if we don't see eye-to-eye on many things. While serving in elected office a few years ago, there were some colleagues with whom I rarely agreed, politically. With one of them, we ended up forging a bond through our love of film. With another, his history of having worked in construction with my father and uncles was something we could share. These things were necessary for us to relate on a human level.
Sometimes, when contemplating a loved one who has died, the sense of mourning caused by their loss is suddenly replaced by the stark realization that, in one very important regard, we lack something in common. That commonality is death. Granted, I have no wish to join them any time soon, but the contrast is stark.
I think of dad, of my grandmothers, friends, favorite authors and actors. It's an admittedly odd perspective, but I was watching a Murder, She Wrote rerun t'other night, and took note that two of the actors, one of them now 100 years old, the other almost 90, were still alive, while others in the cast were not. "We have that in common," I thought. "All we've ever known is life."
Whether death brings with it the end of our consciousness, or the start of a new journey, we'll never know until that split-second between the time our bodies finally fail and one of the aforementioned events occurs. I suppose, when the time comes, either will be okay. It's not as though we have a choice in the matter and, if death truly is death, then we won't be aware of it. Just like we weren't aware that we didn't exist before we were conceived.