Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Beautiful Death: New Insight on Death from the Perspective of Suffering

Can death be beautiful? It’s an odd thought. If some good can come from death greater than its consequences it could be considered beneficial. But beautiful? I was unexpectedly faced with this question after reading two recently published books detailing the lives of two men who suffered through horrendous evils of WWII. I learned that to approach this question requires us to know what death really means. We’ll look at four ways.

Definition #1:  Physical death is the end of suffering in this world

The deadliest man-caused event in the history of the world occurred on August 4th 1945 when the first atomic bomb deployed in combat ignited the sky over Hiroshima, a Japanese city of over 300,000 souls. The ensuing chaos makes the actual death count unclear, but it’s quite likely up to half the city perished from the blast. It's hard to rationalize this horror, especially when we fail to place it in the context of the incredible evil happening in Japan those years.

Useful insight of events leading up to the bomb can be found in the eye-opening book Unbroken:  A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand. It’s the story of Olympic runner and WWII veteran Louie Zamperini. As an upcoming world-class track star, he was expected to be first to break the 4 minute mile and was even personally congratulated by Adolf Hilter at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. Soon after war erupted and he never broke that record.

Louie entered the Army as a B-24 bombardier in the Pacific Theater. Tragically, after a couple near-misses, Louie’s plane and entire crew finally went down at sea as many of them did. Surviving the crash, he endured 47 days at sea making him and his raft-mate the longest known survivors at sea. He spent his ordeal on a damaged raft with almost no food, water, shelter, or supplies. He was under constant threat from man-eating sharks, sun blisters, lice, infection, hallucination, starvation, dehydration, mental fatigue, and enemy aircraft. When Louie eventually found land it was in hostile territory and he was quickly captured by the Japanese. That’s when things really got bad.