Consolations of death

I have known from the age of four or so that eventually, we will all someday die. I used to fear the coming of my fifth birthday, as it brought me one step closer to that dark unknown.

There was no hiding the truth from me! But despite this precocious understanding of dying, the true fear of death did not manifest til around twenty four or so.

Now I have the ability to really feel the truth that one day I will be no more. Death is an occasion that happens to all of us and regardless of who is around us, it is the individual’s body that will let go of life.

The impact of death cannot be taken lightly. I believe that we live in a sort of necessary ignorance, that we will live forever. But sometimes it really strikes me that we won’t.

Perhaps death has the boon of encouraging better choices. If we can afford to live in its shadow.

In the dark moments where I fear and feel what it might be to die, my finite mind races to consolations, clutching in the dark for hope.

i) We do not know what happens: No matter how far scientific knowledge advances, no one can empirically die and tell us what it is like or what follows. As the bastion of science is chipped away and revealed to me to be one discipline of knowledge, rather than the discipline, I fear its conclusions much, much less. Anyone who says they know for certain what happens after you die is over-zealous.

ii) The return to the cosmos: Before coming into the world we were not as we are. After we die, we will cease to be what we are. Therefore death is a return to a previous state of ‘non-existence’. But if we could manifest from that ‘nothing’ into ‘something’ once, is it not possible that something of ‘us’ could manifest again in a different form? Or perhaps the pre-human us, if there was one, had some form of being of itself? We do not know.

iii) The cycle of life: Without something else dying it is immensely unlikely that you would have been born. What would you eat? What would the thing that you  ate have eaten? Even if we only eat plants, we are still part of a cycle of life and death, growth and decay. If my living forever prevented someone else from being brought into the world, imagine how terrible that would be. Death is part of our evolution, it allows creatures to emerge into the world and adapt anew. It is also part of our cultural evolution. Nothing is as vigourous or powerful as youth – imagine a civilization made up entirely of the elderly. Immortals would not change or adapt as well as mortals.

iv) It happens to all of us: This is a bit of a negative egalitarianism and not really much of a consolation. But everyone will have to die someday. All of the people in history, many of whom we know and love through their works, had to die. Everyone in the 18th century, for instance, is now long, long gone. Nothing can preserve itself forever in one form. Everything will go.

v) You will become a butterfly or a tree: But first you will be eaten up and shat out by a worm, vulture, fox or some such creature. Not to mention zillions of tinies. Lets not be sentimental or try to give this a happy, psychologically comfortable ending. The prospect is neither good nor bad, it just is. The knowledge of the seasons changing and things continuing on does provide some consolation. But now even this is threatened by human civilization. We can’t become ‘butterflies or trees’ if there are no butterflies or trees left.

vi) It can end suffering: For most in the world, life involves a lot of suffering. All of us will grow old and most of us infirm. Any number of unfortunate things could happen to us, no matter how well we look after ourselves. Life is so vigorous it strives to survive and we have great capacity to endure. But I would not want to age and age and age in a body that was falling apart. Death, though it is always sad, seems the lesser of two evils. I also often think of dystopias, where totalitarian governments have the potential power to torture people for an eternity, and I am grateful for the reaper.

The way the death of a loved one effects us is hard to describe. But it is powerful, so very powerful, and you never know what it is like until it happens. When it happens you may look upon that person in a different light. Even if you fought with them everyday, you might miss them, or realize how important they were to your life.

Death is so powerful. Don’t just read about it and think that will suffice. It is something you must explore yourself, think about yourself and feel for yourself. Anything less is to insult this most powerful, universal force.

 

 

I am waiting for you

I am waiting for you at the roots of a black mountain

At the axis of eternity where no falling stones may strike us.

I am waiting to hear of your tales in that voice:

Read me the letters sent by desperate princes from far places

Tell me where you wiped daemonic blood from you sword

And say if you found love so I can know if it is real.

Regail with battles won and lament the times you were routed

Tell of the spells you have seen cast from wizened claws

The beasts whose breath has panted on your neck

The artefacts which pulsed with power in cavernous shrines

The thousand-temple processions and the songs they sung.

Expound wild theories of the cosmos, or just speak in axioms

Say what we should do, counsel where humanity should go

Deplore idealism as you do, balance the scales as you can

Remind me of why I am alive, why we are alive.

 

I am waiting as I have been long waiting, and I will wait more

Yet I have done nothing, nothing but waiting and waiting.

I have created nothing with these fingers but brittle shapes

Sired no children in these lands and planted no great trees

I have just watched the hands of a clock pass, hidden from myself,

Seen decay turn to death, lost all purpose in a moment

Given up and given up and given up until my hands became empty

Of all but callouses and scars.

 

For as long as I remember things felt as if  they were slipping away,

At best and at worst things were unreal, illusive deception.

So know this, whilst I waited long, I know nothing, fathom nothing,

I have nothing to say, I can only hear.

I have achieved nothing and built nothing

Raised nothing and mustered nothing

As ephemeral as a pass of the sun or a moment of inspiration

But inspired no one!

You will have nothing to learn, except perhaps how a life can flash by

How a phoenix can fall back into the embers

Or a sycamore seed can miss the soil.

 

I am waiting here, in the node of oblivion, at dark gates

And I will wait til you come here to spar with me again

Lips crooked, swords drawn.

Song for the precarious generation

A merchant fallen from fortune
Might find a mere basement before his eyes

And a man safe in his lover’s arms
Might find himself alone when she dies

A king commanding a kingdom
Might find himself thrown out on his arse

And a beautiful woman of elegance
Might find herself horribly scarred

A city overlooking a river
Might find itself flooded and drowned

And a castle safe on the cliffs
Might face tremors and come crumbling down

A keeper who tends to his bees
Might find them all wiped out by disease

And a bard who depends on his fame
Might be forgotten in song and in name

One thing is for certain in life
That nothing is ever so safe as it seems.

All hearts stop beating, all bodies grow old
All beauty is fleeting, all heat goes cold.

The only strength that always remains true
Is to adapt and survive with empty hands

For you never know, when it will be you
Dispossessed and disowned of your power and lands

Human dignity – ah what a noble attitude!
But Nature is a mocking skull, who laughs at our finitude.

Trusting the world

I once saw the most intriguing insect crawling along the ridge of a bench. It was a creature which reached out with its head, forming an arch, then brought the rest of its body forward, lurching forward pace by pace.

It was young, tiny, new, full of vigour and curiosity for the world. I held out my bag to offer the creature a safer place to crawl upon. It rose up on its ‘haunches’, making a half-arch with its tiny body, reaching up and out to the new surface, buffeted by the wind and tugged upon by gravity. It hung there for a while, ‘sniffing’ out what must have appeared another vast plane of existence.

It would all be so far beyond its tiny comprehension, where it was, where it might be going, what I was, what my intentions were. This creature had no defences, no knowledge but its survival instincts, no obvious direction, no solidarity with its clan. All it could do was trust and drive itself forth. Reaching up, hanging there, it made some kind of ‘decision’ and latched onto the bag, bringing the rest of its body with it.

If beings of greater time-span and superior mind exist in the cosmos, I should imagine we are would appear much the same. With our tiny scope for perception we must always have to trust the world and trust ourselves.