I am afraid of death. Deeply, wibblingly, atheistically afraid. Terrified of losing my consciousness (not to mention my Whistles green silk shirt) forever more. I suspect that I'm not alone, but I'm not entirely sure. Sexual fetishes, political affiliations and personal finances have all become acceptable conversational nibbles to pair with cocktails, but admit to thanatophobia and even your closest friends can react as if you've admitted to contracting a terrible STD.
Which, of course you have. That STD we like to call life.
No wonder I pulled out the credit card when I saw that The School of Life was running an evening class about how to think about, talk about, and do a better death. Cultural thinker and writer Roman Krznaric believes that our 'deathstyle' matters as much as our lifestyle and is on a mission to help us learn from the past and forge a better annihilation.
Over the two hour class Krznaric examined international and historical ways of living more closely with death - medieval Momento Mori art, cemeteries as a social hubs, Mexico's Día de los Muertos - and posed a series of exercises and questions to help us start to design and implement our very own 'deathstyle.' Here are three. Go on, I dare you. Scribble some answers down.
- What 3 things could you do to get closer to death, so you might live with greater passion and presence?
- What question would you most like to ask your partner or best friend about death?
- What do you risk having as your greatest regrets at the end of your life? What are you going to do about it?
Seriously, that last one's a killer.
He also suggested a number of books, movies and articles that contain death-wisdom. My pick would be Kraznaric's own Wonderbox: Curious Histories of How to Live; Studs Terkel's oral history masterpiece Will The Circle be Unbroken: Reflections on Death and Dignity; Hal Ashby's film Harold and Maude; and the Philippe Petit documentary Man on Wire. I'd also add Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, which lays out the best spiritual philosophy about death that I've ever encountered, in the most enjoyable way.
I wouldn't say I'm now a liberated grim reaper groupie, but I've at least started my journey (not to mention identified that I want it to end with plumed ponies, rainbow-coloured Gaultier couture and Seth Lakeman playing the fiddle). Have you began yours?