I was watching the ABC news recently and there was a discussion about a good samaritan who ‘paid the ultimate price’ trying to defend a woman being assaulted by her mother. He was stabbed while helping a person in distress and his death was later seen as the ‘ultimate price’, the worst thing that could have happened to him.
Is death the ultimate price?
This got me thinking, is death the ultimate price? In other words, is death truly the worst thing that can happen to you?
The German General Rommel, amid the fighting in North Africa in World War II, was asked by a journalist about the casualties in a battle so far. He responded with: "Else>>>an 800 have lost their lives…….and they are the lucky ones."
Behind this somewhat obtuse remark was the suggestion that there are things worse than death; in this case, fighting in a war.
Each year on ANZAC Day, I think about the relative pain caused by death and injury. Each ANZAC Day, ceremonies are held at war memorials, a shrine for those who have died fighting for their country. There is mention of those who came back with physical and mental injuries, but the focus is always those who have "paid the ultimate price".
But is death the ultimate price?
I don't believe so.
If you are a religious person or someone who believes in an afterlife, almost by definition, death is not the ultimate price. Death for a religious person is surely an early pass to the next life, eternal life, a life they believe is better in every way. That said, I know few Christians that see it this way. Why do so many Christians fight so hard and go to such extreme lengths to stay alive, even when very ill?
I have known veterans who have come back from war with Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD) who might argue about whether death is the ‘ultimate price’. I am sure there are any number of veterans with extreme physical injuries, perhaps quadriplegic, who would debate at length whether death was the ‘ultimate price’. I am sure I would.
Then there are those struck down by a debilitating disease, and, in particular, those in so much pain that they want to die, and will never orchestrate that escape. For these people, it is clear that death is a release, whether they believe in an afterlife or not. It is not a price at all. These people think that they are paying a high price by living.
I am not suggesting that death is not an ‘ultimate price’ for the friends and relatives left behind . It may well be. The death of someone close can hurt a great deal. But for the person who dies, there is no price. They are just gone.
While I think the concept of an afterlife is far-fetched and unsubstantiated, there are many things I fear more than death, including growing old knowing that I have not lived according to my values.
I have no concerns about dying. While the act itself and how it occurs is of concern to us all, being dead does not concern me - and is preferable to a whole range of serious physical and mental disorders.
There was even a time for me when death seemed an appealing option. Now I am just ambivalent.
When I die, I will not know I am dead. I will not know I have paid any price for anything. Something that does not exist cannot feel anything. When you are gone, you are gone. No more pain. No more anything.
After much thought, I have come to the view that death is almost never the ‘ultimate price’.