Dying Like Montaigne: Embracing Mortality with Philosophy and Grace

Montaigne endeavored to embrace mortality, seeking elucidation from dual perspectives: one, a philosophical inquiry to comprehend death’s reasonableness; the other, a psychological contemplation fostering belief in its veracity. In confronting mortality, the dread dissipates, proving less formidable than envisioned.

Philosophically expounding, Montaigne, aligning with Stoic tenets, posited two notions: firstly, death’s just and natural disposition, an inevitable fate. “What consoles me in contemplating death is its justice and natural order; to beseech exceptional favor from fate is irrational.” Secondly, the equivalence of nonexistence post-mortem and pre-birth, both devoid of existence. Echoing Seneca, he remarked, “To lament nonexistence a century hence is as folly-laden as lamenting our nonexistence a century prior.”

Psychologically dissecting, the apprehension of death may be exaggerated by our imaginative faculties. In imminent demise, the abruptness precludes fear; in a gradual demise, a disdain for dwindling life naturally ensues. Acceptance of death is more attainable in infirmity, where life’s essence wanes, diminishing the dread. Nature, orchestrator of our demise, facilitates the transition between life and death.

Montaigne, envisioning the dying experience, perceived the soul’s ethereal drift, akin to the soothing descent into slumber. Yet, whether Montaigne convinced himself remains ambiguous; his reassurances did not resonate with me. The quintessential fear, the self’s perpetual nonexistence, persists amidst life’s frailty, offering no resolution to our profound perplexity regarding death.

On the Art of Dying

Articulating grand principles on navigating death is conceivable, but when confronted with mortality, artifice falters. The true test, a final reckoning, subjects our life’s tapestry to scrutiny. Montaigne submitted his life’s exploration to death’s examination, distinguishing the authentic from the contrived.

The epitome of confronting death courageously lies not in panic or worry but in unabated living until the inevitable. Ovid’s verse articulates a desire to toil until the last breath. Montaigne, envisioning his end amidst gardening, exemplifies a nonchalant indifference to death’s advent. A historian’s futile lament over severed historical threads in his final moments contrasts with the notion of joyful engagement in one’s labor.

Montaigne espouses the individuality of death, urging minimal disturbance to others. “Death is solitary, not a social affair. Let us revel with friends and seek unfamiliar locales for our demise.” Parting amidst kin elicits sorrow, with genuine or feigned concern unsettling the departing soul. Montaigne favors quiet, contemplative solitude or, if company is imperative, the presence of an intelligent, intimate friend during the final moments.

In alignment with Stoicism, life’s duration holds no significance. “In death, a short or long life is inconsequential; distinctions of length vanish for the nonexistent.” Longevity, an elusive privilege, defies the natural order. Life’s value transcends duration; a well-lived, albeit brief, existence surpasses mere longevity. Noteworthy figures like Jesus and Alexander, despite their brevity, arguably surpassed all in their impact on Western history.

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