Butterflies and The Fear of Death

The old philosopher shuffled along behind his walking frame asking himself “What is the point of it all? There must be something I am missing in this argument…. I wish I knew.”

Herbert Fingarette had spent his life teaching and writing about philosophy. He taught that there is nothing to fear from death because death is simply the end. There is nothing after death. Once we die we cease to be.

But at 97 years of age he is doubting his own philosophy. He says “The thought of my death haunts me.”

In the video (A 97 year old philosopher faces his own death) he asks himself “What is the point of it all?” But decides there is no answer.

If you come to a wall in your thinking, you can continue to bash against the wall trying to force an answer, or you can back up and check your premise. Maybe you took the wrong fork at the beginning.

If you start with the belief that we are no more than our physical body, then it is obvious that when we die there is nothing.

But as we get to an age when we realise that our death is just around the corner, this belief, —this philosophy— gives us no comfort.

The thought that all of our experiences and all of our memories will vanish is depressing and even frightening. Everything we have worked for, all we love and care about will be gone as if they never were.

We feel deep down that this can’t be right. We instinctively seem to know there must be more to our life. And this is why we ask “What is the point of my life? What is the purpose?”

I find it interesting that those who can tell us with such certainty that death is the end—that there is nothing after death—these same people can not explain what life is. They can not explain where life came from. They can not explain how life began.

But they are certain they can tell us what happens when our life ends.

If you think you have all the answers, maybe you haven’t asked yourself the right questions.

So let’s go back to the start and consider that we may be more than our physical body. Maybe there is a spiritual part of us. Maybe we have a soul. Perhaps Mr. Longfellow was right:

Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.

This line of thought gives us a different way of looking at our life and death.

Let’s explore it a bit and see where it takes us.

Jesus said “Consider the lillies of the field.” So we’ll take His advice and look at nature.

But instead of the lillies we’ll consider the caterpillar.

The tiny caterpillar crawls out of his egg and starts eating leaves. And he continues to crawl along and gorge himself on leaves. The whole point of his life seems to be to eat and eat until he grows large and fat.

Then he crawls into a cocoon and that is the end of the caterpillar. He spent his short life eating and growing fat.

But, from the cocoon emerges a butterfly. And the butterfly lives in a world that the caterpillar could never have imagined.

The caterpillar’s world was the leaf he was eating. And then to crawl to the next leaf and start chewing on that.

But the butterfly can fly from plant to plant and from flower to flower. And the butterfly can sip on the nectar from each flower. The butterfly lives in a realm totally different from the one the caterpillar knew.

In the movie The Ultimate Gift the young girl Emily is dying from Leukemia. Jason asks Emily what she thinks heaven is like.

“Butterflies,” she replies. “Lots of butterflies.”

Watching Herbert Fingarette moving from room to room pondering the point of his life, I couldn’t help feeling for him. I thought of the caterpillar crawling along and eating leaves and completly unaware of the butterfly within.

Those who worship Charles Darwin as their God insist that we are no different than dumb animals. They deny that we have a soul. They will not accept any spiritual side of our life.

But we don’t have to blindly follow the crowd. We can think for ourself.

It’s easy to be sucked in by the doom and gloom and whining that is so popular today. But you’re better than that.

There’s always a more positive and optimistic way of looking at any situation.

It’s your choice.


A Psalm of Life

Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream!
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.

Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each to-morrow
Find us farther than to-day.

Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.

In the world’s broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
Be a hero in the strife!

Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant!
Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act,— act in the living Present!
Heart within, and God o’erhead!

Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time;

Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.

Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.
~~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow