Thursday, 22 November 2012

Death on exhibition

There's a new exhibition just opened at the Wellcome Collection in London called Death: A self-portrait. The exhibition explores the image of death in a wide variety of forms. While this might not not be everyone's cup of tea, perhaps there's something about it worth reflecting on.

Stepping stones across the water.In our society, death tends to be something not talked about a great deal. If we are impolite enough to mention it, then we may use euphemisms like 'passed away,' rather than come straight out and say 'dead.' I'm not meaning to be harsh, but I think it can be helpful to name it - to call 'death' by its name. 

Death is part of life - the end of the process of life - and however much we don't talk about it, it is unavoidable. This is a fact we all have to face at some point, for ourselves and for our loved ones. It is painful and sad, that our lives have an end. However, because we have a limited life span, that, in my mind, makes it all the more precious. If we only have so much time, (and who knows exactly how much), then shouldn't we make the most of it, valuing what we have?

I don't mean this as an argument for hedonism but for living a life in the best possible way, whatever that means for you - a life that is as worthwhile as you can make it. I'm not thinking about having to do amazing things, or having spectacular results. I'm thinking more about having good intentions and living your life in a way so that when you look back, you can feel OK about it, knowing you've given it your best shot. That's all any of us can do, isn't it?

If we could choose, would we really want to live forever?  I don't think that would be that great. Wouldn't we just put things off for another day or year or decade? And wouldn't we lose our enthusiasm for life, if it just went on and on forever? Knowing our life is finite gives it an intensity it wouldn't otherwise have.

There's no one way or 'right' way to think about death though, is there? I might have my ideas about it; and you will have yours. It's complex as well as emotive. That's why I think it's good to have an exhibition that brings it into the public domain - it encourages us to talk about death and to think about it from a variety of perspectives. Let's acknowledge death and then get on with living.

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