Aragorn laid down on the long bed that had been prepared for him….Arwen…stood alone by his bed. And for all her wisdom and lineage she could not forbear to plead with him to stay yet for a while….
“Lady Undomiel,” said Aragorn, “the hour is indeed hard….I speak no comfort to you, for there is no comfort for such pain within the circles of the world….”
She said, “I say to you, King of the Numenoreans, not till now have I understood the tale of your people and their fall. As wicked fools I scorned them, but I pity them at last. For if this is indeed, as the Eldar say, the gift of the One to Men, it is bitter to receive.”
“So it seems,” he said. “But let us not be overthrown at the final test, who of old renounced the Shadow and the Ring. In sorrow we must go, but not in despair. Behold! We are not bound for ever to the circles of the world, and beyond them is more than memory.”
(On the death of Aragorn, in the Appendix to The Lord of the Rings. The photo is of JRR Tolkien and his wife, Edith, the inspiration for his fictional characters Lúthien Tinúviel and Arwen Evenstar.)
From Nothing to Be Frightened Of, by Julian Barnes:
On the radio, I heard a specialist in consciousness explain how there is no centre to the brain—no location of self—either physically or computationally; and that our notion of a soul or spirit must be replaced by the notion of a “distributed neuronal process.” She further explained that our sense of morality comes from belonging to a species which has developed reciprocal altruism; that the concept of free will, as in “making conscious decisions from a little self inside” must be discarded; that we are machines for copying and handing on bits of culture; and that the consequences of accepting all this are “really weird.” To begin with it means, as she put it, that “these words coming out of this mouth at this moment, are not emanating from a little me in here, they are emanating from the entire universe just doing its stuff.”
. . .
The expert in consciousness was also asked how she viewed her own death. This was her reply: “I would view it with equanimity, as just another step, you know. ‘Oh, here’s this—I’m in this radio studio with you—what a wonderful place to be. Oh, here I am on my deathbed—this is where I am . . .’ Acceptance I would say is the best that could come out of this way of thinking about things. Live life fully now, here—do the best you can, and if you ask me why I should do that—I don’t know. That’s where you hit the question of ultimate morality—but still, that’s what this thing does. And I expect it to do it on its deathbed.”
Is this properly philosophical, or strangely blithe, the assumption that Acceptance—Kübler-Ross’s fifth and final mortal stage—will be available when required? Skip Denial, Anger, Bargaining, and Depression, and just head straight for Acceptance?
. . .
“That’s what this thing does. And I expect it to do it on its deathbed.” Note the demise here of the personal pronoun. “I” has mutated to “it” and “this thing,” a switch both alarming and instructive. As human character is being rethought, human language must be rethought with it.
Nothing to Be Frightened Of
by Julian Barnes
One sunny afternoon, when he wasn’t feeling well, Jobs sat in the garden behind his house and reflected on death. He talked about his experiences in India almost four decades earlier, his study of Buddhism, and his views on reincarnation and spiritual transcendence. “I’m about fifty-fifty on believing in God,” he said. “For most of my life, I’ve felt that there must be more to our existence than meets the eyes.”
He admitted that, as he faced death, he might be overestimating the odds out of a desire to believe in afterlife. “I like to think that something survives after you die,” he said. “It’s strange to think that you accumulate all this experience, and maybe a little wisdom, and it just goes away. So I really want to believe that something survives, that maybe your consciousness endures.
He fell silent for a very long time. “But on the other hand, perhaps it’s like an on-off switch,” he said. “Click! And you’re gone.”
Then he paused again and smiled slightly. “Maybe that’s why I never liked to put on-off switches on Apple’s devices.”
Excerpt from Steve Jobs: The Exclusive Biography by Walter Isaacson
Some are sensitive enough to realize the loss of transcendence, and to grieve its passing.
Born in with a reason,
blown out like a ghost.
We came with our best lines,
told them like jokes.
If I could have known then
we were dying to get gone…
I can’t believe we get just one.
“Just One,” by Blind Pilot