Death hit me like a slap in the face

Eliot Kern writes for CPX's Thinking Out Loud on how we're all wilfully blind to our mortality after witnessing a car crash.

Ugh. Traffic slowed, and brake lights flickered on, one after another, like a row of dominos. Rushing home from the gym for a 9am start, muscles aching, stomach growling, the last thing I needed was a traffic jam.

Round the bend, a different light flashing: an ambulance. No, two ambulances. Three. Four. Five. Six.

Finally, the cause: a car, upside down, and a man, also upside down, surrounded by medics and cops.

I’ve never seen a dead body, and I hope he was just unconscious. But the sight, even now a vivid memory, hit me like a slap in the face.

It may not have struck me so sharply if not for the day before, when my wife walked past a law firm in Sydney’s CBD just minutes after a shooting inside.

We’re all, at times, wilfully blind to our mortality. In the age of artificial intelligence, some completely reject the inevitability of death. But, twice in two days, one of the safest places in the world (ever) felt a little dangerous. Twice in two days, I was reminded that humans are fragile, morally and physically.

Thanks to Aristotle, we know ourselves as the “rational animal” – smarter than other creatures; more independent. But, in a commentary on Aristotle’s work which would become the standard logic textbook for a thousand years, the philosopher Porphyry made a small but significant addition.

Humans, he wrote, are “mortal rational animals” – intelligent and autonomous, yet in the end mortal, vulnerable, dependent.

The question is: dependent on what?

Maybe karma, and our fates are a sort of cosmic justice.

Maybe luck, and our fates are a sort of cosmic joke.

Or maybe it’s like the old Christian saying: “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”

Maybe our fates are part of a cosmic plan.

This column first appeared on Facebook.  

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