Above is Bertrand Russell, one of my intellectual heroes, around age ninety, talking about the most important lessons he would leave to future generations. And below is an excerpt from Russell’s essay “How To Grow Old.” It is one of the most beautiful reflections on death in all of world literature.
The best way to overcome it [the fear of death]—so at least it seems to me—is to make your interests gradually wider and more impersonal, until bit by bit the walls of the ego recede, and your life becomes increasingly merged in the universal life. An individual human existence should be like a river: small at first, narrowly contained within its banks, and rushing passionately past rocks and over waterfalls. Gradually the river grows wider, the banks recede, the waters flow more quietly, and in the end, without any visible break, they become merged in the sea, and painlessly lose their individual being. The man who, in old age, can see his life in this way, will not suffer from the fear of death, since the things he cares for will continue. And if, with the decay of vitality, weariness increases, the thought of rest will not be unwelcome. I should wish to die while still at work, knowing that others will carry on what I can no longer do and content in the thought that what was possible has been done.
No other philosopher in my more than 50 years of studying philosophy has provided me with as much insight, clarity, and comfort as Russell.
December 2022, Seattle, Washington, USA