Through a Glass Darkly - Reunion panel option

Below the fold is some information about one of the events at our 50th Reunion.


To be immortal is commonplace; except for man, all creatures are immortal, for they are ignorant of death.  (Jorge Luis Borges)

Burdened or set free by that knowledge, men and women have struggled throughout time with death and its meaning.   On Saturday morning of Reunion we as a Class will come together in Rollins Chapel in memory of the nearly 100 of our classmates who have died since we first came to the College more than 50 years ago.  On Saturday afternoon,  three of us will be offering an open discussion of how we understand death and its certainty, and how that may impact our time left on this Earth.

We do not presume to provide answers or banish uncertainty or fear, just to offer a place where we can speak our minds and hearts and listen to our friends and classmates.  Questions and doubt are the order of the day.  Christopher Hitchens, the committed atheist, when facing death was reported to have asked questions of a friend about his religious faith.  When he was dying, Cardinal Bernardin of Chicago surprised many by expressing his own doubts and fears about death and what would happen to him after he died. 

With us will be Professor Margaret Graver, Chair of the Classics Department and co-translator with A.A. Long of Seneca: Letters on Ethics To Lucilius (University of Chicago Press 2015). (Available online.) You may wish to read Letter 24, Letter 26, or Letter 30.   “’He who is unwilling to die never wanted to live, for life is given to us with death as a precondition.  Death is where we are headed, and for that reason one would be mad to fear it.   It is uncertainty that frightens us; when things are certain, we simply await them.  Death is a requirement that is imposed equitably and unavoidably.  Who can complain about being under the same restrictions as everyone else?  The first element in equity is equality.’”

A more recent view is expressed by Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, who authored a widely-read essay on medicine and death in The Atlantic.  His views are summarized in the Wall Street Journal as follows: “Ezekiel Emanuel, a 61-year-old oncologist, bioethicist and vice provost at the University of Pennsylvania, says he will be satisfied to reach 75.  By then, he believes, he will have made his most important contributions, seen his kids grown, and his grandkids born.  After his 75th birthday, he won’t get flu shots, take antibiotics, get screened for cancer or undergo stress tests.  If he lives longer, that’s fine, he says.  He just won’t take extra medical steps to prolong life.”  The quote is from an article titled: “The Advantages and Limitations of Living to 100” by Clare Ansberry.

Another resource is The Hedgehog Review which published “The Evening of Life,” which includes five essays on the topic .

Fifty-four years ago, almost all of us shared the common experience of reading three towering works in the English language, each of which has death as a central theme: King Lear, Paradise Lost, and Moby Dick.  What we may not have understood then, we may be better prepared to grapple with now.

Each of us must face death in our own way, but we can share now what we think we know and don’t know about it together.  We invite all of you to join us.

It is not against death that we prepare; that is too momentary a thing.  A quarter of an hour’s suffering, without aftereffects and without damage, does not require special instruction.  In truth, we prepare ourselves against the preparations for death.  Montaigne, Of Physiognomy (1580). 


Peter Elias

Arthur Fergenson

Peter Schaeffer