The scramble for 'life'

For some reason, yesterday I was thinking about how wealthy Westerners sometimes go developing countries in order to get organ transplants, which they can’t get in their own countries.

The problem is that these organs are often sourced from shadowy places you don’t want to know about. The human organ trade is often illegal, brutal and exploitative, and at its worst shines a harsh light on whose lives we value, and whose lives we do not.

What got me thinking was this scrambling for life – that people are prepared to partake in something as vile as the human organ trade, so that their own life might be extended by a little. It seems that many of us will fight for ‘life’, no matter what the price.

There is something sadly desperate about this. The scramble for life seems to me to be a way of denying the reality of death – and partaking in the human organ trade is one of many ways that we do this.

We also deny the reality of death when we refuse to think about it. This culture hides death away: held tight inside coffins and compressed into one-hour ceremonies.

And we deny death when we treat life as a trajectory of ‘progress’ towards power, importance and wealth. We do this when we ask the question, “What will my career be?” rather than, “What will I do with my life?”

The human organ trade is rooted in an assumption that if we are rich and important enough, we can overcome death. I wonder if that assumption underlies much of our attitude towards life.

My friend quoted to me the other day, “It is the reality of death that makes life valuable”. I agree. When we deny death, paradoxically we devalue life. We don’t see life as a finite gift, to be used with intentional love and care. We see life as something that goes on and on, and so it matters little that we concern ourselves with trivial matters, or spend our time accruing “earthly treasures” that (though we are in denial of this) will pretty soon pass away.

Many people believe that we never really die, but that our seeming death is merely a transition into more life, which will go on and on for one infinite stretch of eternity. The Christian hope is different. It tells us that we WILL die. But there is this hope – that after dying, truly dying, we will one day be resurrected to new life. And perhaps we will know the value of that life, because we have tasted death.

And so I think that if we deny that we will some day die, this ‘life’ to which we firmly grasp is not life at all. It is a sort of unenchanted twilight zone, through which we walk sleepily, not knowing that we need the night in order to see the colours of the day.

Though I too easily slip into denial, today I am committed to valuing each moment of my life, and not taking it for granted –  knowing that one day I will die, and all that I know will be gone.