Thursday, November 22, 2007

THE BEST WAY TO DIE



On Thanksgiving night, after our friends left and my family was asleep, I watched again the recent film about Edith Piaf called "La Vie En Rose." It's an interesting film. It gives her an horrific childhood, fame in mid-life, and loneliness and isolation in old age. The old Piaf would lay flat on her back in bed with the covers pulled way up to her eyes, shivering with fear in the dark. Maybe she was afraid she'd go to hell. Maybe she was just terrified to be at the brink of death.


Watching this I wondered if hers was the wrong way to die. I always imagined myself dying the philosophers death where I calmly said goodbye to family and friends, and maybe even joked a little. That's not what Piaf did. She was terrified and tortured. I wondered who had the better plan.





Maybe Piaf did. I remember what Homer said about what we would call tragic heroes. The hero finds what he's good at and enters into a mystical relationship with it. He sacrifices everything to be the best at it. He may be a lousy father and husband, he may have bad table manners, but he's the best at something and that's no small thing. When the end comes, such a hero dies badly. There was never any attempt at balance in his life. He lived to experience life at its fullest through his skill, and nothing in his experience prepares him for death. He dies crying and digging his fingers into the ground. And Homer says it's a good death.

Maybe the kind of person who lives life well is incapable of dying well. Maybe living life well requires us to love life too much to casually put it aside.

Or...maybe Piaf was neurotic and her extreme attachment to her lovers was a sign that her life was lived badly. What do you think?

19 comments:

Jorge Garrido said...

I think the best way to die is like Carus: being struck ym lightning. What's more spectacular?

I.D.R.C. said...

Maybe the only people fit to answer your question are those who have been the best at something.

If you attain the love of masses as Edith Piaf did, maybe growing closer to death is more difficult, especially if fame filled a hole in your psyche.

I think no matter how you lived your life, your only rational choice is to make peace with your mortality.

No matter what it says on your tombstone, you're gonna have a tombstone. You better get used to it.

I'm drunk. Hope your day was as good as mine.

Kris said...

I'm not sure there's really a good way to die. I always wanted the philosopher's death, too, where you're old and know you're going, so you bid farewell to everyone and feel satisfied that you've accomplished everything you wanted to. Most people, I think, haven't accomplished everything they wanted by the time they die, not so much because they did a poor job at living, but because they got cut off before they supposed they were done.

Kali Fontecchio said...

Can I borrow the movie? I wanted to see it at the santa monica 4 last year, but forgot.

Anonymous said...

Narcissists don't do well with aging, sickness and mortality. Talent is another issue.

William said...

This is one of the most thought provoking theory corners yet! Especially at this stage in my life. I love Homer's concept of the tragic hero, and you phrase it so eloquently, but I wouldn't want to be one or know one. I love my wife and daughter, my friends and family and I like being good at loving them or being able to take up the slack when I'm being a lousy father. There's something to be said for wanting to be happy in the first place- often taken for granted that wanting to be happy is a given. It's not.

Anyway, as for death, I'd rather take a more compromised death and die in a duel.

Perhaps we should pick a lighter subject. I want to know your thoughts on the mid-life crisis, Eddie! That should provoke some interesting discussion.

David said...

I think that the Western culture of individualism is about building a life that denies the possibility of a terminal end. It's about finding your own way to transcend and continue, through power, wealth, or coming up with a virulent idea.

Ernest Becker wrote a couple of great books, "Denial of Death" and "Escape from Evil" about our attitude towards our own death. "Denial of Death" won a Pulitzer prize in 1974 and it's worth reading to anyone who's interested in questions like these!

Sean Worsham said...

I don't like to think about death, if I do then I couldn't continue. I love life and people too much to think about trivial matters.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

William: Mid-life crisis? Good idea for a blog but really, I don't have much to say about it. Mine lasted for only two intense weeks but they were doosies. I didn't have a theory to cope with it. I just blindly rode it out til the worst part ended.

I got off easy. Some people are tortured by this stuff for years.

diego cumplido said...

All I want to say is: good subject.

nostrildomous said...

The best way to die huh?
Thats a no brainer. I'd say it would have to be with your eyes closed.
Open eyed deaths are too cliche and creep people out.
Next question, please.

Jorge Garrido said...

Hey, what about a soldier's death? An honourable last stand?

Jorge Garrido said...

"You know they say you deserved whenever you die with your eyes open" -Jadakiss

lastangelman said...

For what its worth, the philosopher Chrysippus died of laughter after seeing a drunken donkey eating figs. To die laughing is a special gift from the gods, a reminder all is vanity and ridiculousness. Better than dying clawing at the ground or hiding under the covers waiting in dread, begging for even more life to squander foolishly or needlessly.

NateBear said...

I guess it all depends on what's important to you. If you are more concerned about leaving a lasting mark on society asa whole they you will be a fanatic with few true friends, if any. If you are more concerned about cultivating an enjoyable life in your own time then the few who know will remember you fondly. In that case, your legacy will carry on into the future more subtly as people will imitate your pleasant qualities. So basically you can be remebered as a talented asshole or a fantastic person who never reached the pinnacle. I'd go for the latter just cuz you personally would have a more enjoyable life while you're in it. Historians always seem to find out who's an asshole, but in the long run it's easier to get over that if the legacy is amazing.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

David: I read part of Denial of Death a long time ago and wasn't much impressed with it. Maybe I didn't give it enough of a chance. I'll look up that and the other books you mentioned. Thanks!

pappy d said...

I think at this point in my life, I like
Ambrose Bierce's idea. He just packed up, disappeared & was never heard of again.

I wouldn't like to be thought of as dead.

pappy d said...

There's a terrific caricature of the Little Sparrow on Patrick Mate's blog:

http://patrickmate.blogspot.com/

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

William: I reread my response to your comment and I realized that I unintentionally lied. The truth is that my midlife crisis never went away...I'm still stuck with it. I had it especially bad for 2 weeks, that's why I mentioned that.