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The Riding Dead

For centuries, philosophers, academics and the clergy have attempted to examine and explain death. There is of course the clinical definition, which says that it is the irreversible cessation of all vital functions especially the permanent stoppage of the heart, respiration, and brain activity. But that’s not what I mean. It’s the metaphysical description of that final moment I’m referring to. While the quest could go on endlessly, I would like to make a suggestion where those searching for the meaning of death should start an empirical study. They should board De Lijn’s 370 bus that connects Leuven and Diest. By boarding between 7.30 and 8.00 in the morning during the school-year, they will discover a plentiful supply of ready young specimens for a study of this magnitude.

These samples–almost exclusively students on their way to school–get on the bus, walk a few meters and stop dead–excuse the pun–in their tracks. They don’t move, they don’t seem to breathe, yet they stand looking aimlessly through the bus windows, watching the monotonous scenery that the bus passes. It doesn’t matter how many people continue to board the bus. He/she (there’s no discrimination for the “dead”) continue to stand there in their death trance, unable or unwilling to move to allow incoming passengers to get on, oblivious to the mounting flow of humanity that want to move to the less-crowded part of the bus.

That is the place to start looking into how the dead live or the living die, within a certain context, this one being public transportation. I’m assuming the phenomenon of the riding dead also plays out in other parts of Belgium; maybe even the world. To get the most out of the study of mortality, it should be interdisciplinary, involving the faculties of medicine, religion, philosophy and sociology. Given its proximity, the KU Leuven (Katholieke Universiteit Leuven) could supervise the study. I’m sure because of the significance of the study, De Lijn would be happy to offer its services in order to benefit from the beneficial public relations.

There is, however one possible anomaly in the study that will have to be explained: the “dead” seem to come alive when the bus driver screams, “Move to the back of the bus, there’s plenty of room back there.” Somehow, after moving to the back, they do not regain their former position. They seem to come alive, either chatting merrily on their smart phone or chatting away with a schoolmate. Could it be that a bus driver’s scream shakes someone back to life, or could it be that they were not dead yet? These are the questions I will leave to adept scholars and scientists.

In order to add more prestige and funds to the study, perhaps the group performing the study could turn to the EU. There is certainly no shortage of specimens for the study, should they wish to continue in a different context.

By Arthur Rubinstein