Foreword, written by Thomas Howard


Death is the one implacable topic. We mortals ("mortals"-there it is!) can never stop thinking about it. We can never stop trying to do something about it. Indeed, it seems to have been one of the first things we did try to do something about. Dig as far as we will into archaeological mounds in Mesopotamia, Africa, or Sutton Hoo, and we find-what? Burial artifacts. Coffins, spices, food, and armor for the soul on its journey, memorial tablets-something, anything, to bring to this impalpable mystery. Ubi sunt? Indeed.

 No. I am wrong. We can stop thinking about it. Our own epoch tried it. We spread euphemism over it like treacle. Instead of howling wakes, long palls, drawn hearses, and "Dies Irae," we tried parlors and carpets and slumber rooms and cosmetics and fetching imagery of Forest Lawn with its nooks and glades and general ambience of baby's-boat's-a-silver-moon. All is well, if only we don't look. (Said in quite a different tone from the Lady Julian, who, having looked quite long and hard, was able to say with towering courage and candor, "All shall be well, and all shall be well." Not the same thing at all.)

 But no again. I am not wrong. We can't stop thinking about it. Suddenly (ten years ago?) we decided that, since we are bringing the clipboards and questionnaires of society to every other topic, we may do so with this topic. So we briskly set about approaching the ultimate monster in the same way. Let's see now, let's tabulate the progressive attitudes of the dying person. And let's calculate the responses of those surrounding the situation. And let's enumerate and observe and tally and summarize and generalize. It is data, and our specialty now is data. Sex data, marriage data, urban data, data about syndromes and neuroses and hostilities and attitudes and prejudices. If only we can get it all taped somehow….

 And thus a plethora of books about death. One more topic. How to die.

 And all the while the monster is grinning at us, unimpressed, implacable, inexorable, gobbling us up one by one while we whisk at the gnats flying about his serene brow. He is still our enemy.

 So says Peter Kreeft. There is no getting around it; there is no point in sentimentalizing it; nothing to be gained by artful dodges. Death is our enemy, our last enemy. Aha! Bravo to Peter Kreeft for pricking us back toward the sheer lucidity with which our ancestors looked at death.

 And then what? Death is a stranger, he says. Yes, fair enough. It certainly is. So far so good. But what's this? Death as a friend? Wait, are we being wheedled into yet another mire of sentiment? Will we find the abyss once more papered over with febrile attempts to make death natural and therefore unterrifying and welcome?

 Oh, oh, worse and worse. Death as mother. And, final, frantic outrage, death as lover. Well, we can set this book aside as one more attempt (albeit an enormously keen and ingenious attempt) to tiptoe past the intractable.

 No. I am indeed wrong this time. This book prods and huddles us along a track right down into and through the dark mystery of death, never winking, never dodging, never flinching, never bidding us avert our eyes. We are driven (that is the word, I think-Peter Kreeft will not allow us to loiter timorously in byways where we might be pleased to find false shelter), driven so much farther into the topic than the "books-about-death" have dared to take us. Follow (the author) in this journey into the abyss and find out how to begin thinking about it with a candor born of true radicalism, that is, the effort to get to the root-the radix- of a question.

 Death as a friend? As mother? As lover? How can we say that without the most insufferable sentimentalism?

 Read this and find out.

      -Thomas Howard.

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