Jello? Sorry, that’s not it.
No, I am talking about the big D. Death isn’t just for older people, but there’s a correlation. More and more frequently, people who I know personally die.
When I was twenty, a beloved friend died in an auto accident at the age of twenty-two. That was a horrible shock. The next year, on the day when I left Georgia to move to California, my beloved great-grandfather died at the age of one-hundred-and-one. If I had been more aware, I would have noticed a steady stream of relatives, and relatives of friends, and friends of friends, dying off steadily.
These events feel quite different from the knowledge that many of the world’s billions die daily, somewhere. It’s different from hearing media accounts of horrible, unnecessary deaths of strangers in my town, state, or country. I’d like to value everyone’s life, but when it’s personal, it’s different.
Of course, animals fear and avoid death. It is a basic feature of the “lizard brain” that all sentient life shares.
Many cultures and religions provide reasons not to fear death: reincarnation, heaven, fatalism, glory (as in ancient Sparta), and such. Belief in these takes a lot of training. The reasoning brain can barely overrule the lizard brain.
Lizards never get depressed. Only intelligent creatures do. We humans logically understand that our death, and the deaths of everyone, will come. We know it almost our entire lives.
Here’s one theory of why it’s so depressing: We normally put aside our knowledge of death, but when it happens to somebody close, it intrudes back into our thoughts. It forces us to think that we ourselves will die.
Certainly I am sad for my own loss of a friend or relative, and sad in posthumous empathy with that person, and sad in sympathy with other people who lost the deceased, and sad for my eventual loss of myself. But sadness isn’t depression. (Maybe this leads to depression for some people.) Beyond sadness, I also am forced to think and feel about my own death.
Recognition of my own limited time points up how precious life is. And that brings to mind the time that I wasted, the opportunities that I squandered, the love that I missed, the times that I failed, the people I wronged, and the general grubby self-centered jerkiness of life. And that’s depressing.
It’s no wonder it takes Zen monks decades of silent sitting to relax.