Halloween, on October 31, is now a Hallmark celebration. A global event celebrated by people around the world as a fun-day with candy and costume. Hallowed Evening, or the evening before All Saints Day – All Souls day, a celebration of the dead and departed, has now become a global party, a globalized commodity with some offering Halloween sales.
However, some still traditionally go to cemeteries and pray for the souls of the departed. And sometimes the party is taken to the cemetery. Day of the Dead, or Dia de Muertos, celebrated in the first two days of November is a national holiday in Mexico. People go to the graves of the deceased, leave their possessions, offer their favorite foods and beverages and flowers, and build ofrendas or private altars at home to honor the dead and departed.
Brazil has the public holiday of Finados on November 2. In India, there is the Hindu tradition of pitru paksha, which usually falls in the month of August-September, as families conduct death rites of Shraddha or Tarpan, and offer prayers for the souls of departed ancestors. Then, there is the Bon festival in Japan celebrated in August and similar festivals in Africa.
All these festivals across the world are special ways of bringing the past into the present, even if for one day, and celebrate the existence of our ancestors. We make the dead alive when we remember.
However, reading about the days of the dead made me wonder. While we spend one specific day remembering those who have died, trying to know them again; what if we knew (and remembered) that one specific day when we would die.
What if we all had death-dates instead of birth-dates?
What if parents, families, doctors, midwives, entire communities somehow lost all memory of the day and date when a child was born and all that they knew, for certain, was the exact date he or she would die.
How would life turn out if we had death-dates instead of birth-dates?
For instance, if someone’s death date was 6th of July, would we wish them and sing happy death-date to you? We would perhaps get a cake with candles to celebrate his death-date, and for once, blowing out candles at death-day celebrations would assume real meaning.
With the current attention of birthdates we focus a lot on life, and the mystery of life. However, with a world of death dates we may just start focusing our attention on living.
A birth-date gives us a start date for life while we are happy that someone is born and tell them to celebrate this wonderful thing called life; we often ponder about an uncertain future and end up making this life miserable. A death-date, on the other hand, gives us a very specific end-date; and maybe that might just push us to enjoy things a little more. Would we become hedonists, or follow the teachings of Epicurus, or just turn stoic?
Would some of us invest money and buy doctors and geneticists in order to delay our death dates? But then death-dates are fixed like birth-dates, even if we sometimes lie about them, and cannot be moved. What would we do then? Try to swap our death-date with someone else? Try to cheat ourselves just like we do with time when we change the clock to save daylight.
Would we lie about our death-dates? After all, many people lie about their birth-dates? Lying about birth-dates makes us younger in other people’s eyes? What would lying about death-dates achieve? Would we claim that our death-date was earlier than scheduled or later? What date would our driver’s license have – or our passports?
And what about horoscopes – that entire astrology industry would perhaps suffer because the most important event of our future, our death, has already been predicted and determined.
How would the inherent determinism of having something like a fixed death-date influence the life of free-will? What are the choices we would make if we had death-dates instead of birth-dates?
(… to be continued)
© Nilesh Chatterjee, 2015