From Shakespeare on Death to Attitude

(My first and still favorite movie version; Laurence Olivier’s performance in classic black and white, directed by himself, is the one which all subsequent performances have been evaluated)

“Not a whit, we defy augury; there’s a special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, ’tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come: the readiness is all. Since no man knows aught of what he leaves, what is’t to leave betimes? Let be.”

“The rest is silence.”–both quotes from Hamlet

There are a number of other memorable quotes in that play of Shakespeare’s, but those two form some kind of bottom-line. We will all die, some today, some tomorrow; and down the road at some time the rest will be silence for each of us. In that–another topic already covered–about the information/the known and mystery/the unknown–another basic perspective of/on life.

Perhaps the casualness of Hamlet’s “Let be” may strike one as odd (whereas others may fret and be stressed out about the possibility of personal mortality), but at the bottom of things–all mortals must accept their own natural limits and limitations. Things will unfold as they will–death is very much a part of life and ‘flow’/process. It is deeply built into our lives.

In the fall, I looked outside my window and saw a dead tree (a stump–the tree hewn down years ago). I saw flowers amazingly alive in an Edmo October, but knew they would be dead that weekend with a predicted low of -7C. I look about the room and see photos of dead parents, a painting by my wife’s dead aunt. I open the paper and read about another train wreck in which hundreds are suddenly extinguished. Halloween passes again with its skulls and ghosts. The ‘D’ word is suddenly mentioned often in the course of the day, a year, and so forth.

Instead of seeing life and death as separate experiences and states, I see them as interfused and mingled together throughout all our days, weeks, months, years, and lives. This vision being ever-constant, with the implied sudden, seemingly random, possibility of death.

I recently survived a near-miss collision with a rather large UPS van; death is always that close, that potentially snuffed-outable–what Frost talks about in “‘Out, Out–‘”. Hamlet, elsewhere in that play, says that a man’s life is similarly extinguishable, as potentially extinguishable as saying the word “One”. There’s nothing serious in mortality” as Macbeth concludes: “Out, out, brief candle”.

No, “Let be” indeed. A philosophic perspective and acceptance that in the midst of life, we are always, realistically/factually, also in the midst of death, or as Milton put it, living life “under the ribs of death.” Need we be bothered about this underlying reality or perspective? I think not. We may or will come to know more than we do, get whatever missing information or perspectives on both life and death. Some of the mysteries of life and death will continue to unfold the longer we live, along with more of whatever missing information. And, from this further information and understanding of these mysteries, a fuller and greater appreciation and savouring, perhaps, of the relative briefness, fragility, limits, ephemeralness, evanescent momentariness and transitoriness, and potential values and meanings of life, love, beauty, fuller consciousness, flow, process and unique person/life/presence.


Very much–life and death are not simply separate experiences or entities. They are constantly intermingled and interfused throughout a human day and life. This awareness does, ironically, illustrate the kind of depth to our human experience and journey–a basic overarching perspective or ‘backdrop’, if you will.

But, I think, finally, the response, at least mine, to such a view or awareness–everything in a person’s life does come down to their fundamental consciousness, values and beliefs–as revealed in what might simply be called attitude.

Life is, also a simultaneously “wonderful world” as Louis Armstrong crooned. Or as W. H. Auden in “As I Walked Out One Evening” wrote: “Life remains a blessing/Although you cannot bless.” That is to say there are positive attitudes and experiences despite whatever negativity one may also be aware/conscious of. There is, unquestionably, the positive potential and experiences of health, good conversation, family, friends, pets, love, good luck, the arts, Nature, beauty in many forms, kindness, decency, civilized behaviors and practices, peace, etc. On most days of our lives, the glass is half-full, whether we are surviving, succeeding, or experiencing the extraordinary.

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