Chapter 34: Delivering a Lecture on Death

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

Reads: 37

Due to his lighter schedule, Gallagher would spend most of his free time off campus. When he did venture to class, he tended to be early and found himself having the best selection of where to sit. In the small Mandarin class he tended to sit towards the front, not wanting to see the indifferent drolls attending the class. With regards to Ancient Cultures, he took a seat more towards the back. He enjoyed the lectures, when they were on the topic of the subject, but they could be boring as well, as the professor would remind the students that they were in university, not high school anymore. Writing essays was part of the package. However, in his Philosophy classes, which he took with Samantha, he sat not quite in the front, but somewhere between it and the middle with her. 
  The Philosophy Frog, the doughy, short and balding professor from his freshman year, was the lecturer for the Existentialism and Hermeneutics course. Gallagher hadn't had a class with him since then, having opted to study, out of a choice of three, Philosophy of Culture and of Science, but not of Religion, which the Old Frog taught. In his Existentialism class they had progressed as far as talking about Heidegger and Sartre, and the essay Gallagher had written on the debate and differences between the German and the French philosophers had garnered him some high marks and praise. Now the other shoe was about to drop.
  Towards the end of the lecture, the Old Frog cut it short and addressed the class.
  'I would like for some of you, two pairs to be precise, to give a lecture in the coming weeks. An essay will be assigned to the class for reading for that specific lesson, but the lecturers will not be me, but rather two of you. Naturally, I want you to prepare the presentation as professionally as possible. So, the dates will be next week Tuesday and the Tuesday the week after. Misters Larkin and Sidwell, would you be able to attend and deliver a lecture this coming Tuesday?'
  While Larkin nodded and said that he would, Sidwell had to disappoint the professor by telling him that he had a medical appointment for that day, scheduled some weeks ago. 
  'Is there someone else you would like to partner with, Mr. Larkin?'
  He looked behind him to a fellow at the back. They spoke with their eyes and came to an agreement. 'Cobalt and I could do it, sir.'
  'Excellent. And then, for the second one, Miss Scantlin and Mr. Black.'
  Gallagher felt hot iron running down his spine. He had expected Samantha, diligent student that she was, to be an obvious choice, but not him.
  'We'd love to, sir.'
  In his head he complained about whether he got a say in any of this, but he kept his mouth shut.
  'Excellent, excellent,' he picked up a stack of papers and begun dolling them out to the class, 'these are the two essays I would like for you to read and prepare your presentations for. For next Tuesday, the first essay in the pair, On Choices, Misters Larkin and Cobalt, while for Miss Scantlin and Mr. Black, you will be instructing us on how to create one's own death.'
  'It's such a morbid thought,' Samantha said later.
  'It's inevitable, though.'
  'That doesn't mean I want to think about it, now do I?'
  They were sitting on the benches in the commons area of the Humanities Building. Or rather, she was sitting, Gallagher was lounging. 'We're talking about the lecture, right?'
  'Cause that's inevitable.'
  'More so than death?'
  'Death is the one thing we as living things are entitled to. Everything else is up to chance and hard work.'
  'God, I can see why he chose you for this.'
  'I thought he chose me because of you.'
  'What do you mean?'
  'Well, you're the star student, he likes calling on you in class and you always seem to have something to contribute.'
  'He chose you, too.'
  'Yeah, because I'm always sitting next to you.'
  'That's not it. You're selling yourself a little short there.'
  'No, I don't think so. I'm scared to death that I'll fuck this up. At least it's not for marks or anything like that.'
  'You don't think it's curious that he decided to pull this after handing our essays back to us last week?'
  'What're you getting at?'
  'You did well, didn't you?'
  He shrugged. 'Uncharacteristically.' 
  'I know your mind, Gal. I have a pretty good idea of what it's capable of and I'm willing to bet that you showed him in that essay some of that too.'
  He sat up straight. 'This is why doing well is dangerous. Brings too much attention.'
  'Oh, shut up. You deserved it. Now, we have about two weeks to get this thing done. How about we read it and then next week we'll get the presentation ready.'
  He looked at the essay, it was roughly four pages in length. 'Should be achievable.'
  'Alright, I'll talk to you later then.'
  'I thought you were learning Mandarin.'
  'More reason to practice the little bit of Spanish that I know.'
  'Whatever,' she laughed. 'Bye.' 
  A dread came to settle over him during the course of the next few days. Working with others, having them rely on him, filled him with great anxiety. He expected failure for all of his efforts, a pessimist at heart, but he was often proven wrong and could do fairly well at times, thereby leaving him surprised by his own success and making him feel that everything turned out alright. But now Samantha was going to rely on him and he didn't want to drag her down to his realm. 
  He read the essay three times, made some notes and worked harder on it than anything he had done before. By the time she was ready to start working on it he had already finished his part. They had agreed that she would take the first half and that he would deliver the conclusion. He wrote his notes and sent it to her so that she could fit it into the slides.
  The day arrived and they sat in the front, as if it were a means by which they could forget that there was an audience there, at least for a while. The Old Frog started the lecture, introduced them and sat down.
  Samantha was nervous and couldn't look up from the floor just in front of her. Her eyes wandered between a point where she could see no one and her notes. But she spoke clearly and well and elaborated on the thoughts of Heidegger in the text. A few times it happened that the Old Frog interrupted her to comment on what she was saying. Often, the point he had raised would be the next slide. She was thrown off, but could quickly recover and managed to get through her part of the lecture in about fifteen minutes. A little short, but she was flustered and hastened a little bit towards the end. Old Frog lead the class in applauding her. She passed the baton to Gallagher who made his way to the front and continued the lecture.
  'Aye aye,' he began. 'Now, Death is inevitable. All living things are born and all living things die. It's inescapable and we witness it all the time. One could even put forward the argument that life is a studying of dying,' he smiled to himself, knowing full well that he just slipped in a Queens of the Stone Age lyric. 'In the course of our respective lives, we will have people around us die. Some deaths will impact our lives more than others, of course, but none more so than our own.
  'When Heidegger talks about inventing or creating our own death, he's not talking about planning the means or the way in which we are to meet our end, but rather, what meaning we give to our lives knowing that one day we will die. Death is the conclusion, and if we are lucky enough to have one which would grant us the time to reflect on our lives, what would we reflect on? What would it all mean?
  'As Miss Scantlin had discussed earlier, we strive to live meaningful lives. But what is that meaning without limits? A life that could continue on and on for eternity would not be as valuable to its owner as a life that had term limits. Death, in that sense, is a blessing. It forces us to invest meaning into our lives before it expires. To make it matter. Heidegger's concern is not with simply living life, to be hedonistic or to celebrate death in some cultic form. Instead he advocates for the Dasein. It is the form of living that is peculiar to human beings. We are aware of our existence, its flourish heights, it limiting depths, whereas most animals, as far as we know, simply exist. Ever seen a cow hang itself because it was depressed?' some laughter from his peers reached his ears. 'Maybe they would if they had thumbs, but I digress.
  'The Dasein is unique to humans, but also unique to individuals. We all share the fact that we live in experiences, that we exist, but the terrible paradox is that we exist and experience it alone. The same experience lived by two similar individuals will digress wildly into differing conclusions. For example, two siblings and their interactions with their parents. While the converse is also true. Two people from completely different backgrounds could have two different experiences, but somehow arrive at the same conclusion. However, in the end, the Dasein is isolating. We know that we are alone in it, though we share our existence with other people and their own existences. 
  'And so death comes for us. It is common to us all, and it narrows us down, focuses our attention on what our existence exactly means in relation to ourselves and to others. It is our one unalienable right. Even if you were in a prison cell awaiting execution, your Dasein, or rather, your ability to contemplate your Dasein, would allow for you to frame your life in such a way that you could garner some meaning out of it. Perhaps not always the most positive conclusions could be made, depending on the situation, depending on the person, but meaning nonetheless.
  'I would like to conclude with what I believe is the most important point of this essay. That death is our responsibility. It is our responsibility to venture forth and make sense of our lives and to give it meaning before the final curtain falls. We make it, not by planning for it, but knowing that it is there, waiting, common to all of humankind, but each one unique to us individually. We must reckon with it, though many do not. They turn away from it because it's too morbid to think of it. But we shouldn't. It's our one and only destiny. To die. To expire. To kick the bucket, to give up the ghost. And a life that does not reckon with that is not a life well lived. Thank you.'
  Applause followed him as he sat back down. It was only after Old Frog had passed him and stood at the front of the class that he realized that he hadn't been interrupted by the professor even once. He shared some of his thoughts on their lecture and commended them for a job well done. 
  Gallagher could finally see the point Samantha was trying to make weeks before. He had a knack for arguing, especially when put on the spot. She struggled with a topic she found uncomfortable to think about, while he, dark and black dog hounded as he was, spent most of his time simply thinking, especially about death and what his life meant to him. He was a little confused as to how she knew him better than he knew himself, but that wasn't bothering him so much. He felt he had done a good job, somehow, and people came up to him after the class to congratulate him on his lecture. He grinned like a fool for the rest of the day. 

Submitted: August 06, 2022

© Copyright 2022 Alexander Byrne. All rights reserved.


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