Today’s culture can be explained through many different phenomena: social media, and technological proliferation, to name a few.
But one interesting way to analyze cultural markers is to flip through the vernacular, picking out prevalent phrases that portray a prevailing sentiment — the small clips of language understood and used by all.
One such explanatory colloquialism is the term “passing,” or “passing away,” the phrase used as a substitute to dying. Upon reflection, a few questions bubble up: what is passing? Your soul? Where is it going? Certainly, your body is not passing.
When the body dies, it becomes catatonic and immobile. Your body can go nowhere except underground, in an urn or on a shelf. The phrase she has “passed,” contains much more of an implicit ideology than one would think. It would be one thing to say “she is in the past,” but that is a completely different word, a different phrase.
“Passed” is transitive or intransitive, but never meant as “now existing in the past.” It could mean that the “she,” in the example phrase, has “passed,” meaning her life has passed relative to time and the people around her, meaning she has passed through. That is intransitive, and can indeed be used without much implication.
But more often than not I think it implies “she,” the deceased, as having moved, transcended, passed on. Not many give this term thought, and most use it simply as a kinder way of saying “she died,” but I think there is something profound to be learned about our collective ideology as a society when a phrase like “she passed away” becomes part and parcel of the language we use.
In part, “passing” implies a belief in the soul, in the life-breathing specter many believe operates the anatomical conglomerate that is the human body. A belief in this transcendent part of human beings is the only thing in relation to death that could “pass.” It is the only thing that can transpose itself out of the vessel it was occupying into some other state of being, some other realm and so forth. The dead body is going nowhere. It is staying here, on Earth, and decomposing like every other dead organism.
Of course, belief in the soul as the passing thing also begs the question of where is it passing to? This answer, for many, is heaven, or at least into another life that does not exist in an earthly realm, something up in the ether.
This develops a religious dimension to the term “passing,” a belief that the soul, something that is believed in, not concretized, is passing into a realm we also have no empirical proof of. Not only do these ideas of the soul’s passing represent a certain religious or ethereal sentiment, they show a certain proclivity for narrative. It’s life continuing on into another realm as positive reinforcement to live morally in this one.
It is through narrative that we shape our lives, make ourselves believe in a greater story-history-that involves our “important” existence. And it is through mystic colloquialisms that we justify not only our place in the word, but our subliminal yearning for one. It is a template founded on mysticism, on abstractions that have become prevalent in our culture and that the majority, I would say, buy into enough to categorize death as a passing of the soul into another arena. This isn’t good, nor bad; I am not moralizing. It is just interesting to notice these subliminal patterns in society that so easily fly under the radar, that are so instinctually used without noticing their connotation. I really don’t think the dead care all that much if we use the term “passed away,” since its main use doesn’t probe into a level of consciousness that comprehends anything past its soothing modality, its being applied as a balm. But still, sometimes the banal is fathoms deep.