What do all these people have in common? It’s not easy to find one common factor between them all, but there is: death. They all died in the last two weeks. The ways in which they lost their lives were different but their deaths took them all to the same place: eternal life.
After a shocking mass shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, during the first screening of “The Dark Knight Rises” last week which resulted in 12 dead and 59 injured, I started thinking about death while listening to an interview with one of the survivors. He was crying, saying, “When the shooting started, I thought I was going to die and I said to myself that this cannot be my death. I cannot die like this!” That statement really struck me deeply. I remembered a hadith, a saying of the Prophet Muhammad, in which he said, “You will die the way you lived.” And I realized again that death can come at any minute, at any place and that we would find ourselves facing it very unprepared, just as Turkish poet Cemal Süreya once described it: “Every death is an early death.”
To enjoy life we prefer to pay no heed to death. We like to ignore the reality of death to be happy in our lives because when we remember that everything in life is mortal we feel vulnerable and helpless. It is hard to talk about death in our daily routine. In our daily conversation we even avoid using the particular words “death” or “dead.” Instead we choose euphemisms by using indirect or vague terms so as not to be harsh or offensive. Although we can easily say deadline, dead end and so on, we refuse to say someone is dead when she passes away. We comfortably kill the lights, kill the moment or kill the mood, but when someone gets killed, it kills us to talk about it.
In contrast, no one can confidently say that he or she will be alive in the next second. Nothing is certain in life except death. Every one of us will taste death. We are all just travelers in between two unknowns: birth and death. Ironically, our death is the one unique guarantee we have in our lives. So we have to take life seriously! It’s too short to waste. At the end we might resent having missed the chance to have unquestionable meaning in our existence if we focus on having fun. Living without an aim is not really living. If we don’t have anything to die for, we are not really living. We should keep our dreams alive to survive.
That shooting in Colorado really shook me and pushed me to look at the things around me very carefully when I found out that the shooter, 24-year-old James Holmes, is a gifted doctoral student. The people who know Holmes describe him as clean-cut, quiet and responsible. I cannot put him in the same place in my mind as the monster who police claimed opened fire in the movie theater.
I wouldn’t want to be in his mother’s shoes. She is probably asking herself, “What went wrong?” As a mother of two, my biggest concern is providing my children with the best education they can get. But I’m a little confused about the measure of a best education. Is a great academic curriculum enough in life to succeed? To help our children build a healthy, loving and peaceful life, what do we need to do? Maybe we should help them understand that life is different from digital games and movies. These days, gun control is the hottest topic in the US, as it should be. Yet we should also discuss controlling violence in digital games and movies since it’s so easy and convenient to be exposed to them through digital means.
Maybe we should talk about death with our children more often to help them realize that death is an inevitable part of the natural flow in life and that it is not “cool” to ruin that flow. On the contrary, intelligence is to help keep that flow going. We should guide our children to understand there is nothing to be afraid of death but an inadequate life.
It’s also important for our peace of mind to understand death. “The caterpillar dies so the butterfly could be born,” said John Harricharan. Who would like to stay as a caterpillar if they knew that they had an opportunity to become a butterfly? We should acknowledge that death is no more than changing one room for another and the good news is that we will be able to see there.
Nobody can kill death. Whoever comes goes away, but whoever goes away doesn’t come back. It could be our turn any second. So we cannot waste time and take life frivolously. One day we will wake up and there won’t be any time left to do the things we’ve always wanted to do, or one day we might just not wake up at all. We should start living right now like there is no tomorrow. We should keep in our mind that whatever we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; if we want to challenge death, we have to think of the others because what we have done for others remains and is eternal.