My Musings

The Awareness of Death

Albert Camus (French philosopher, author, and journalist): He was awarded the 1957 Nobel Prize in Literature at the age of 44

Reading a book about the global solutions to climate change (as you do!) and I stumbled upon a reference to the French existentialist philosopher, Albert Camus, citing that existentialists believe that the awareness of death gives our life meaning. Interesting. I’ve put down the book and here I am.

“The awareness of death gives our life meaning”

I don’t think that’s true for me, the exact opposite, really.

I think the death of your much loved baby shows you (on the whole) how your life lacks meaning.

For weeks now, I’ve described myself to friends as “untethered” and “listless”. I’ve blogged about not knowing what the point of me is, anymore. Not knowing what I’m supposed to be devoting my life to.

Friends don’t know if I’m coming or going: one moment I’m talking to them about selling my house (“but Anj, you’ve only just done this one up!”) and the next, I’m discussing the building quote we got for doing-up the existing garden (“but Anj, I thought you wanted to move home?”).

Recurrent baby loss hasn’t given my particular life meaning, far from it. It’s left me floundering. I’m clutching at straws, trying to find a new project, a new focus, something I can have some semblance of control over. “Death gives our life meaning” is a nice attempt to pretty it up, but death is messy, ugly, uncomfortable, consuming. And it’s just as important to say that too.

I can see how a near-death experience may give life renewed meaning. Or how the certainty of a quickening end can do the same (e.g. with a serious or terminal diagnosis), but it’s the “awareness of death” where the nuance lies. It feels as though it’s held at arm’s length. You can see how having something happen to someone you know, can give one a renewed sense of self – the peripheral awareness giving rise to people refocusing, re-evaluating. But what about those who have been immediately touched by death? Who are still rubbing up against it, day in, day out. What if they’re not just aware of death, but if they’re carrying it every day. Intimately acquainted with it. Mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, children, friends – dead. I’ll bet the “I’m going to live life to the fullest!” moments are more fleeting than the “I really miss them, they should be here” ones.

We’re not all phoenixes that rise from the ashes. We’re loss mums and dads, keeping an eye out for feathers and robins. You need a lot of energy to be reborn, in the face of grief.

Perhaps the quote can be reworked, repurposed for our needs?

The acute awareness of death can rob our life of meaning


The vague awareness of death can give our life meaning

This situation makes me laugh. I discussed in my happy pig blog, how and why I turned my back on studying philosophy as a teenager, but there’s definitely something in this which intrigues me. Despite me having a pop at Camus, wouldn’t it be awesome to be a wise old bean, like him? To leave behind such simple, yet supremely thoughtful words?

Having shunned my career as a philosopher, means I’ve never stumbled upon Camus before, but googling some quotes from him, here’s something else to ponder – Wikipedia says that the absurdist philosopher Albert Camus stated that:

“Individuals should embrace the absurd condition of human existence”

Oh how I adore that – the absurd condition of the human existence! It’s something else I’ve been toying with lately; how “fair” is a human, man-made notion. There is no promise associated with fair, it’s not mean-reverting. It’s utterly random. People say “life’s not fair” while still hoping it will be. What’s that about? And you know where this is going: just because you would make a good parent, doesn’t mean you’ll get to be one. Life is absurd, unfair, yet we exist.

I won’t bore you with any more of my googling or random ponderings, but this third quote from Camus touched a nerve.

“In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer”

Again, a nice idea in theory. Much harder to focus on in practice. So cut yourself some slack if you’re not changing seasons. It took me a long time to find my “invincible summer”, and even then, I wouldn’t call it “invincible” – I still frequently get drowned in the depths of winter.

Reading this back, these three quotes seem to sum up my three pregnancy losses perfectly. First the silver linings I sought, next the realisation that life is not at all fair and finally, the way I eventually learnt to carry them all differently…

For Boc (pronounced Bock): The awareness of death gives our life meaning

For My Baby: Individuals should embrace the absurd condition of human existence

For Summer: In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer

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