The first thematic fragment in the drama of existence that readily makes itself available as a dramatic horizon is death. Every living creature is touched by the reality of death. It is part and parcel of our being finite. In fact, behind every dramatic production – which is a projection of human existence on the stage – death stands unuttered.

There are many aspects of death, often mutually contradictory. Death is destiny which we desperately avoid and resist to no avail. As life’s mortal and cunning enemy, death either conquers life from outside or slowly eats it up from within, rendering life’s past and present meaningless. But death too is the interpreter of life. It throws its illuminating light retrospectively on life and puts it on the scales to ascertain its specific significance. Again, death is thought of in terms of its immanence in life. Life is saturated with death. We carry it within us even as we try to flee from it. Yet if a person genuinely gives oneself to a beloved, such an act will never be revoked even after the beloved’s death. For love has an eternal value; it transcends death.[1] Death too is a borderline across which God, angels, demons, and ghosts engage the living. Death is atonement, self-imposed or others-imposed. It is a way to expiate one’s guilt, rectify one’s truth, make room for others, and achieve one’s union with the divine. In addition, death too is a way to achieve justice. Above all, death is inevitably and mysteriously connected with love. “Love’s finality, which is called into question by death, can actually use the finality of death to show its own credentials, unmoved by the contradiction that death puts an end to it.”[2] In this sense, dying on behalf of someone else is an act, not of expiation, but of love. The passive event of death becomes an active, sublime act of giving one’s life for love. Here we come very close to the Christian horizon.[3]

From these faces of death, it is clear that tension is inherent in the theme of death. Death is a “mysterious paradox that imparts ultimate meaning to the play of life, or denies it any meaning.”[4] We can suffer death as something inevitable, or seek it out as our final act, the highest expression of our will. Still, death imprints an indelible meaning on our existence. Our struggle for meaning, beneath our struggle with death’s ambivalence, keeps us always in tension. Undeniably, the horizon of death touches all of us. It relates us to the passion, death, and resurrection of the God-man Jesus Christ. It raises the question on the meaningfulness or meaninglessness of existence. But at the same time, it points us to a vision of ultimate meaning that seems to radiate from the Paschal event of Jesus Christ.[5]

[1] TD I, 379, citing Roger Troisfontaines, De l’existence à l’être, La philosophie de Gabriel Marcel I-II (Louvain and Paris, 1953), 141-71.

[2] Ibid., 388.

[3] For the different aspects and understanding of “death” as dramatic horizon, see Ibid., 369-408; see also Garcia-Rivera, “Do this in memory of me,” 167.

[4] TD I, 371.

[5] Garcia-Rivera, “Do this in memory of me,” 167.