Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Heidegger Isn't Helping Anymore.

I wanted my post yesterday to be upbeat since New Years Eve was not so wonderful for us. Za found out that one of his new colleagues died in a freak accident. When he told me, I felt like someone had punched me in the stomach. Maddie was sleeping as he told me the news and we both had an instinct to check in on her. The idea that someone young, thriving and full of life could die, suddenly, was too much to take in. I don't know the details of his colleagues' death, nor do I think it is appropriate to discuss it too much, but I wanted to take the opportunity to write some reflections, in general, about my first encounter with death post-Maddie.

Horror. That is the best word. Death has never been something I deal with well. In fact, this is probably the reason why I gravitated toward the work of Martin Heidegger while I was an undergraduate. The whole concept of Being-towards-death was the only way I could take something that scared the living shit out of me and turn it into something positive and powerful for my life. If I could remember to confront the fact of my death, then, Heidegger argued, I could begin to fully live my life--knowing full well that my life was finite and that it was conditioned by certain facts that I had no control over. Death was the occasion for life in Heidegger's early writings. In fact, death was the one inevitable possibility of our life that gave us the power to escape conformity. Through the confrontation of our death, we could choose a life that was our very own choosing, that capitalized on our best strengths, and gave us real joy.

That was how I read Heidegger. And, that was where my mind was supposed to go when I was reminded that death was the inevitable end of my life. What Heidegger doesn't talk about--at least not that I remember this--was that facing your death, once you are a parent, opens up profound fears about not you, not your life, but the life of your child. Heidegger does argue that death is what reveals (what he calls) the structure of Care--that we are related to a world, to others, and to meaning-making (leaving a legacy). But, he really sees death as about the self. Whereas now, I see death wholly about the others I leave behind. Death fundamentally discloses to me that I am responsible for a child and to leave that child alone in the world is frightening.

Of course, I can prepare for this possibility--wills, life insurance, god parents that will be most like me, etc. But, those actions do not seem to allay a new found fear I have about dying. Neither does Heidegger. I am set adrift again, looking for some solace in the wise writings of minds that came before me to help me reconceptualize what it means that at any moment I could drop dead and leave my daughter.

Since I have no way to think of this without great fear, I turn this problem over to my readers. Point the way for me . . . .