Pedagogica: Timor Mortis


An imaginary friend has been visiting me too often recently, his name is Timor Mortis, but let’s just call him Tim. Tim tends to hang out and chat with old-timers like myself, but not exclusively – there are youngsters, as well, who in moments of solitude and uncertainty, or sometimes, when trying something new, unfamiliar and a bit risky may possibly hear his prattle. As one ages, Tim tries to sound more reasonable by citing our daily quirks and discomforts in a Bayesian algorithm that points in the direction of imminent decease. I was once close to a person who spent the last 10 years of her life listening to Tim and expecting to die of old age at any moment.

Tim is a bit of a nuisance, because he rarely has anything new to say, but simply repeats the same old lines that suggest that his colleague, the Grim Reaper is waiting down the street, or perhaps shirking his duty in the local tavern. He usually visits me at night when I'm tired and a little bit down. My strategy for avoiding a lengthy conversation is to say "Excuse me, I'm beat and I'm gonna' to hit the sack!" He disappears along with my consciousness, and apparently doesn't stay the night – at least he is always gone in the morning when I wake to a new day. On the rarest of occasions, he may make a cameo appearance in a nightmare, though these tend to become lucid dreams that I can send into exile and then roll over again into the warm arms of Lethe.

The military and suicide bombers sometimes succeed in banishing Tim with powerful identity narratives of honor and sacrifice that they are told and tell themselves, but most people simply don't want to hear about him or from him. But Tim persists and has taken advantage of the decline in belief systems about afterlife that has occurred in many cultural contexts. More and more people just throw up their hands when dogged by his questions. Yet, in an age of terrorists and armed loonies, Tim can suddenly, at least temporarily, dominate public discourse.

From the perspective of a professional interculturalist, I hardly ever hear any discussions of how various cultures think about Tim and his entourage. The most we ever hear in intercultural trainings is what colors to avoid when choosing flowers for a funeral, and whether it seems obligatory to attend or not. Taboo topic? Frightened of discussing religion? Does your philosophy or faith echo Dylan Thomas...?

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Image: Detail from Triumph des Todes, by Peter Bruegel the Elder, circa 1562-1563

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