Why Death Makes Life Precious

Are you familiar with the anime Your Lie in April? The story revolved around these two 14-year-old musicians; the male protagonist was a pianist while the female protagonist was a violinist. What made the anime interesting to me is the fact that their story only extends for a year, beginning with the time when they met for the first time and finishing in April, a year after they met, when the girl died.

There’s something about death which at times, fascinates me. Perhaps it is because like everyone said, it’s the end of our lives, and it constricts our choices and chances. Of course, people need not be mortals in order to be finite, even an immortal would still be a finite being if he’s limited to what he has now. So, unlike what some people have in their mind, being immortal does not mean being infinite. However…

When the girl first knew that she’s going to die, one of the first things she did was eating a whole cake. She had always wanted to do that, but she didn’t want to do so because she was afraid that she would gain some weight. After that, she started to wear contact lenses, also because she had always wanted to do so. But the most interesting thing she did, the action which determined the course of the movie was…

Knowing that we would die wouldn’t change a lot of things. Everyone of course knows that they’re all going to die. It’s a given fact that our lives will someday end. However, what interests me here is how far do we realize that we’re going to die. Sometimes “dying” seems so far away. Ironically, it is because we know that everyone is going to die that we sometimes fail to realize that we are that everyone. When we say “everyone is going to die”, we don’t really include ourselves in it. And even if we include ourselves in that sentence, what we include isn’t ourselves as an individual. Instead, we refer to ourselves as another, as this anonymous mass of being, mixed into this viscous mass of other anonymous beings.

It all started with realizing that she didn’t have that much time to live. Other than that, not a lot of things changed. She’s still going to die, sometime, someday. And still, no one knew exactly when she’ll die. The illness didn’t really limit her timespan. After all, all of us must have known that we can die at any day, at any age, and from any way possible. From illness, accidents, etc. And if we believe in fate, everyone’s time has been determined, so it shouldn’t have mattered. She, like everyone else, must have knownthat her days were numbered, that she could die at any moment in time, in any way, even without her illness. So nothing would have changed. However, the illness she suffered has brought the possibility of death right at her doorstep.

The death as an individual is something which we sometimes fail to realize completely. It is easy to understand the death of us as an Other; as this empty individual, lost in the midst of the people. But death is more than just dying biologically. It is the end of a project. For all our lives we temporalize ourselves, moving forward, processing and struggling into the future. There’s something that we want to achieve, and there’s existence, our existence, not just as a living thing, but as me and you, unique individuals, in this world.

The moment she realized that death isn’t so abstract and far away after all was the time when she first decided that her life wasn’t just any life. It’s her life, it was she who was living that life in that circumstances, surrounded by those particular people. She’s the one who hadto eat that whole cake, she’s the one who hadto dream of something, she’s the one who hadto play the violin.

She is the one who had to fall in love. Her happiness is for her and hers alone.

The contingency of death seems to retroactively endows the life with this sense of isolation. It is not me as a social being whose life is going to be terminated, it is just me, my life, that’s going to end. It breaks the ties of the social and thoroughly isolates the person. It is at the face of death that the values the person holds come into question.

What is it that truly matters to you?

As long as death is treated as an abstract and far away thing, as something which happens to other people or to me but only as an Other,there will never be that abrupt and total isolation, cutting us from that outside self we’ve built to navigate in the social world. I’m not saying that the realization that it has to be me andno one else when it comes to certain experience is impossible to come by until you realize that death is imminent. After all, it is also a contingent fact that it is me who eat and enjoy this slide of tomato. That experience cannot be relegated to anyone else. However, living is hardly similar to eating a slice of tomato. To live is more than to experience things. It is to choose what we want to do. To will what we want. To think, to act, to make a story as we see fit. Unfortunately, it is all too easy to lose ourselves in the sea of the social. To treat ourselves as a common individual in the sea of common individuals. After all, is it not only us who live on this planet?

You’re right when you say that we humans are social beings. It is impossible for us to just ignore what other people think of us. It is impossible to not experience the pressure of the expectations others put on us. It’s not even limited to just the things we knowingly experience. Being in the human world means that we have no other choice but to actualize what has been given to us. What we desire comes from the outside. The choices we make are limited to what others have given to us. However, it doesn’t mean that we can only live according to what others want. To live only as another will not make it a life at all. It will only be a chain of experiences, experiences belonging to another person. There will be no me and you, just what others have poured into us. To fail to live as ourselves is to fail to completely actualize what is possible for us. And to fail to actualize what is possible for us is not to live at all. That’s what it means to be free, to actualize what is possible for us as a person. The existence of death frames our whole life and limits it to only two ends. It is only to be or not to be. To actualize the possible or not at all. Death creates an exigency to actualize our possibility now, regardless of what people might think of us.

…being a mortal doesn’t only mean that we are finite beings. Being mortal is both a curse and a privilege. The privilege is that death is what makes a life a life. It puts an end to the chain of events. Death totalizes the whole life, it unifies the chain of experiences and give it the unity of the life a certain someone. It is like a seal. It puts an end to the story and gives it a stamp of belonging to a certain someone. A closed book, a completed book. But it is also a curse. It means we only have one chance, one limited chance, to have a happy and meaningful life, a life that we really want to have. A chance to have it all or lose it all. It is either to own our own life, to will what we want to do, and to actually do what truly matters to us, or to lose it all and live as if it’s someone else’s life. It can hardly be anything in between.

…to actually live her life doing the things she loved. Struggling to achieve the dream which belonged only to her. But above all, actually loving someone she had loved for some time but never having the courage to express her love. The girl died at the end of the movie having been happy despite the fact she would never achieve everything she had dreamed of before, because she knew, she had lived. Her realization of death created an exigency that the moment to live is only now, and it will never come again.

So that’s why…