Hit by a Garbage Truck
As I drove the other day, I watched a garbage truck roll out of a parking lot. In order to get into traffic it moved quickly. Such a vehicle moving quickly makes a wide curve. I thought, "I would hate to get killed by a garbage truck."
That struck me as odd. First of all, I would generally hate to get killed by any truck. What hit me most was the emotional sense that being horribly crushed to death by a garbage truck would somehow be unsanitary. That's right, part of my brain thought being mangled by a cleaner vehicle would be better.
That got me thinking. Why do people really worry so much about the manner of their death? It's not like they'll be there for very long. I can understand the worry about suffering. Few people would want to go through a slow, painful death when the option may be one of those instant, "didn't see it coming" kinds of demise.
I can also understand that people don't want to die in a manner that would cause trouble for others. The idea of a parent being killed in front of a child would be far more disturbing for the child than just hearing about the death later. Likewise, being killed in a bordello that specializes in leather and spankings might be a bit disturbing for those one leaves behind.
There's an ancient northern European collection of wise sayings, called the Havamal. It tells us that cattle die, kinsmen die, and you will die also. It may sound depressing but it goes on to say that the only thing that will last in this world is one's reputation. That may be part of why we worry about our death. Who wants to be remembered as the guy who was crushed by a garbage truck? I don't.
The point of the Havamal passage isn't to depress you with death, but rather to encourage you to do more with your life. It wants you to ask, "How will I be remembered?" I know that I would prefer to be thought well of. I can easily pick between two epitaphs if the choices are "Taken Out With the Trash" and "Respected Member of the Community". (In actuality, I would like my epitaph to say, "Don't make me come back there.")
Remembering the dead is a function of the living. We who are still around are the ones who worry about such things. For the dead, the particulars of death are no longer a matter for speculation. So, we put up grave markers, tombs, shrines, and other manifestations of memory to try to keep our honored dead among us. We hope that some functioning part of the deceased still exists incorporeal to appreciate the fact that we care. At the same time, we quietly fear the sounds of haunting moans that accompany garbage day.