Death has made me somewhat ambivalent about life. Ambivalent means “having mixed feelings about something; being unable to choose between two (usually opposing) courses of action.”
I feel more disconnected these days; more like a spectator than a participant. Losing Susan has taken the wind out of my sails. I’m not as into the voyage as before but I’m not quite ready to sink either. Becalmed in the Sargasso Sea I’m struggling to row my way back into the shipping lanes. I’m writing every day, spending time with family and friends, traveling a bit, trying new hobbies but it’s slow going with only one oar.
Death unmasks the transience of everything, including people. Anyone can be taken away without warning. YOU can be taken away without warning! Theoretically we all know this but it becomes more visceral when Death’s cape brushes you as he passes. The contact causes vertigo, churning your emotions and confusing your thoughts.
You find yourself asking: why put much time and effort into staying in shape, decorating the house, landscaping the yard, climbing the corporate ladder or making new friends? We’re here on tourist visas. (When was the last time you bought a painting for a hotel room or planted flowers at a highway rest stop?)
You don’t have to be depressed or suicidal to raise these questions. Even those at the pinnacle of power ponder the vicissitudes of life and death. Ecclesiastes is the ultimate tale of ambivalence as Solomon vacillates between decadence and austerity, labors and indolence, wisdom and folly, only to conclude:
“Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher.
“Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.”
What do people gain from all their labors
at which they toil under the sun?
Generations come and generations go,
but the earth remains forever.
If everything is meaningless, why keep going? Or, as another writer put the question in the mouth of another monarch centuries later,
“To be, or not to be:
that is the question.”