“He who fears death dies every time he thinks of it” -Stanisław I Leszczyński
Stanisław I Leszczyński was an interesting man, who I would have liked to have known. Born into a Catholic family and taught by protestant educators, his view on power, life, and death, were unique for the times, especially for a two-time king. In the 1730’s he published “A Free Voice of Insuring Freedom” which advocated for personal freedom for the Polish peasants and opposed serfdom.
The Polish king abducted from the throne twice and moved to France where he died rather unpeacefully in his sleep when his silk pajamas caught fire while he slept by the fireplace. He did have the good fortunate to have known his great-great-granddaughter Archduchess Maria Theresa and died at the tender age of 88 years old.
This morning, my husband was talking in admiration about a woman he heard speak who had been sober for over 30 years. While he thought this woman had many admiral qualities there was something that stuck out. The woman described an outing where each person’s purpose for being there was clear and some of them were present only to drink. The woman continued to talk about the power of prayer and spiritual matters and tied it back to the outing when she left with an 80-year-old woman who had been drinking. The speaker said a prayer and turned her life over to god as she got in the passenger seat of a car that was to be driven by an 80 year old intoxicated woman. There is nothing more notable to the story; there was no accident and no ill consequences – apparently because she said a prayer.
People sometimes get confused on what it means to not be afraid of death. I could see the merit in the argument that a king who fled the throne twice to save his own life should not criticize those who fear death. But it is because he fled twice that I believe his words to be that much more meaningful – he knew the value of life and did his best to preserve it at all costs but did not fear death.
It’s a curious thought to wonder if this Polish King knew that he would die while snoozing by the fire in old age, would have he done anything different? Only he knows the answer, but I’m inclined to think that nothing would have changed.
Some people die simply because they do not think to prevent it. Like the woman speaker who knowingly exercised poor judgement for reasons known only to her and her god. More than her lack of judgement is the apparent disconnect between her inner self and outer being.
Fear is the corrosive thread that can cause our lives to unravel. Fear of death is instinctual but a boost of adrenaline to help us avoid death is fleeting, what remains in our minds is in our control.
This speaker’s story makes me think of the impact we have on other people. I imagine if she were someone I cared about, and she died in a car driven by a drunk woman. My first reaction may be to get angry at the driver, however, as soon as I learned she got in the car with full knowledge of the driver’s condition, it is likely my anger would shift to her for making that choice.
The same scenario with different actions that were in line with her ethics would have a different type of impact. For example, if she refused to get into the car with the intoxicated woman but then was hit by said woman as she walked on the side of the road. Her life may have ended but her ethics would still be intact.
Today, I will combat my fear of death by thinking about it. Reflecting on each day as if it were my last, so that any feeling of regret or remorse can be attacked with urgency. I owe it to myself to do what I can to preserve my life and to live, and die, accordingly to my own ethics.