Stephen Jenkinson on “The Meaning of Death”

Stephen Jenkinson

Says in “The Meaning of Death” something quite profound about our age, and how the fate of our civilization is tied to the personal experience of death.

I have watched the video maybe twenty times and have been both moved and confused by what he said. I transcribed the entire text, but I am still not sure exactly what he is saying. What I can say is that I would not have been drawn to it if it were not compelling.

Stephen Jenkinson

“The Meaning of Death”

You know I was asked, many, many times when I was in the front lines of the.. No! When the people in death’s shade thought I was a good idea–to come and talk about finding meaning at the end of life.

That was the standard request

So you can see the idea that meaning is somehow potentially elusive, or even fugitive. And has to be somehow be wrung from the circumstances is behind that question.

It is a particularly modernist dilemma

To find meaning.

But the real problem is in conceiving of it as something that you have to find. You can see the language implies that it is hidden, or that you are not looking in the right place, or that there is some nefarious architecture that keeps it from you, or that… You understand—or that

you have to claim so-and-so as your personal savior.

What but what if the meaning is not hidden? What if is not something to find.

What if the story is that meaning is not found at all, but it’s made. It is made by the willingness to proceed as if certain things must be.

Like, life has to continue, not you have to continue. That life is not your lifespan, or your children’s lifespan, or the lifespan of what you hold dear.

How about holding dear the fact that nothing you hold dear lasts? How about holding that close to your bosom? That’s making meaning of the end of life, the willingness to do that.

It is not hammered into the sky for all to see so that nobody can forget.

You see how precarious the whole proposition is. It actually has to be lived out and told in order to pertain.

It ha(s) no police, it ha(s) no enforcement branch.

You know.

If you’re not willing for it to be so, it probably won’t be. End. Well, what’s the consequence of that? Well, it is not a conjecture, look around you. Our way of life is the consequence.

Life does not feed life. Life is on the receiving side of life, always. No it is death that feeds life. It is the end of life that gives life a chance.    

It is a hurtful kind of comfort, maybe, that the dominant culture of North America is in some kind of beginning stage of a terminal swoon.  Because it’s the beginning, it is hard to tell the difference between that and dancing, or having a good time, you know.

But, it is terminal alright, meaning that there is no turning back from it, there is no undoing it.

Alas, it is worse than talking about it as a punishment.

It’s not a punishment, no more that dying is a punishment for being born.

Our particular dilemma, I think, is trying to live with the realization that what the world requires of us humans is not that they piss off already and why don’t you all die and then we’ll go back where we were.

No, I think that the world whispers, “All we need of you is that you be human—that’s it.

The dilemma is in the meaning of the word, “human.”

What has to die is your refusal to die; your refusal for things to end.

If that dies, life can be fed by (that) and so the plea is not for punishment, it’s for remembrance. You are not supposed to feel bad about having forgotten. You are supposed to feel more. See, that is the invitation.

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