In Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris”, the protagonist complaints that he doesn’t know whether he should marry his fiancee, and whether he loves her at all. The reply he gets from a fictional Ernest Hemingway contains the most brilliant lines in the movie (quoting from memory):
When you make love to her, do you feel immortal? Because if you don’t, you don’t really love her. When a man makes love to a woman he loves, he isn’t afraid of death anymore – in that moment he is immortal.
We all destined to die, and there isn’t anything we can do about it. We are born with our own destruction built into us. What makes this universal condition of any living organism truly tragic for us, is the fact that we are aware of it. But the more we avoid thinking about it, the more we try to cover up our anxiety with distractions the more likely are they to resurface later as a neurosis.
Somewhat paradoxically, our fear of dying becomes especially unbearable when we aren’t living. When we feel that our life passes us by, and we are just lifeless robots in it, executing scripts, going through the motions, without passion, excitement or curiosity – it’s then that our fear of death becomes intolerable.
On the other hand, have you ever met a happy person who is preoccupied with thoughts about death? Isn’t that curious that someone who has seemingly “more to lose” is less anxious about the whole thing?
Woody Allen hints to the answer. There is a cure to the fear of death, and it’s love. Love creates a bond between us and an object outside ourselves, and transforms us. We are no longer the lonely, isolated, wretched creatures, terrified of our final little tragedy. Instead, we become part of something larger then us, that which will survive our death – in our children, in our deeds, in our causes, in the days we made our lovers happy.
When we love, we live. And when we live, truly live our lives – death loses its terrifying power over us.
Today, however, we are having a hard time living because we are so bent on outwitting death – Simone de Beauvoir