The difference is in the dying

An Indian (dot not feather) coworker was ruffling about her desk and getting ready to go at 11AM. One to respect the early clock-out, I said nothing. Another, American coworker stopped to ask her something and in that prodding, nosy American manner asked her where she was going.

“Oh, there was a death in the family. I need to go.”

“Oh my, that’s terrible. Are you alright? Do you need me to do anything?”

“No, I just have to go and help out with arrangements. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

With that she walked out and she promptly defined a great axis upon which a culture is defined: death. I don’t know much about Indian culture when it comes to dying, but it seems that it’s largely to be expected and while said, inevitable. It could be very different from that and this was a second removed cousin that the woman was referring to though. Still, the American woman defined the American view on death all too well in that it just simply can’t ever happen. I’m reminded of a life insurance commercial that stated, “…if you die…” as opposed to the much more appropriate, “…when you die…”

Of course tied in with denial of one’s mortality in the US is the fact that people think they’ll never grow old as well, since naturally that could lead to death, which most definitely isn’t going to happen. This in turn creates an economy and approach to life that is in reality not sustainable as it doesn’t take in to account the natural progression of life, which is death, which of course can’t happen in the US.

It was a few simple sentences that reminded me of this the other day and something I hadn’t really thought about since getting back from West Africa as once you’ve actually had life-threatening illnesses, you really don’t understand what a fart in the wind your existence really is.