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VIII

THAT WHICH DOES NOT BELONG TO DEATH

INCREASED by so many adventitious horrors, the horror of death becomes such that, without reasoning, we accept the doctors' reasons. And yet there is one point on which they are beginning to yield and to agree. They are slowly consenting, when there is no hope left, if not to deaden, at least to lull the last agonies. Formerly, none of them would have dared to do so; and, even to-day, many of them hesitate and, like misers, measure out drop by drop the clemency and peace which they grudge and which they ought to lavish, dreading lest they should weaken the last resistance, that is to say, the most useless and painful quiverings of life that does not wish to give place to the coming quiet.

It is not for me to decide whether their pity might show greater daring. It is enough to state once more that all this does not concern death. It happens before it and below it. It is not the arrival of death, but the departure of life that is appalling. It is not death, but life that we must act upon. It is not death that attacks life; it is life that wrongfully resists death. Evils hasten up from every side at the approach of death, but not at its call; and, though they gather round it, they did not come with it. Do you accuse sleep of the fatigue that oppresses you if you do not yield to it? All those strugglings, those waitings, those tossings, those tragic cursings are on this same side of the slope to which we cling and not on the other side. They are, for that matter, accidental and temporary and emanate only from our ignorance. All our knowledge only helps us to die in greater pain than the animals that know nothing. A day will come when science will turn against its error and no longer hesitate to shorten our misfortunes. A day will come when it will dare and act with certainty; when life, grown wiser, will depart silently at its hour, knowing that it has reached its term, even as it withdraws silently every evening, knowing that its task is done. Once the doctor and the sick man have learnt what they have to learn, there will be no physical nor metaphysical reason why the advent of death should not be as salutary as that of sleep. Perhaps even, as there will be other things to consider, it will be possible to surround death with deeper delights and fairer dreams. Henceforth, in any case, once death is exonerated from all that goes before, it will be easier to face it without fear and to enlighten that which follows after.


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