Horizon at Sandy Point

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Fascinated by death

Death and disaster - impending death - draws us. Daily news stories headline the numbers who have died in landslide, flooding, by murder, bombing or accident. The greater the calamity - more deaths - the bigger the story. Where - or when - does this interest in dying - suddenly like planes falling out of the sky, or slowly by painful disease - take hold in our lives? At what point do we turn as moths to a flame to become witnesses and to expect certain death as destiny. 9/11, tsunami, hurricane, world wars - the theatres of death are full and fascinating - morbid rejoicing that we are still on this side?

For a time when I was a teenager and people would ask "what do you want to be?" I would say "old." I had this mental picture of old oriental woman, wizened, agile and wise. I believe I wanted to be wise; but I hadn't really thought through the process. It was just an idea, and if you asked me about "wisdom," I might have said "I want to see everything, experience everything." Death was not a threat or an option. I still don't believe in it. If that sounds like hubris, it's not. But it is that desire, that appetite that drives the routines, the ups and downs of a year in your life, the getting up to see what each dawning brings. Tony Hall calls it "jouvay every day" - the daily celebration that defies the hundred year sleep, and your spirit's realisation that it still occupies this body.  It's life that's the real challenge.

It's easy to wait for death - more inexorable and uncompromising the longer you live. It's harder to be alive. To wonder what's for dinner while negotiating the latest procurement contract; or to figure out how you will get school books for the child when all your possessions are soaking wet or floating out the door from a half hour downpour on some distant mountain top.

Death does not define us. It's what we do in the face of death that marks us. It's the little or large gestures that give our living meaning, that the spirit craves. And if - or when - we do die, let it be from a life fully lived. Who knows what comes after - we still should not spend our days mourning the finality of life as we know it.

(Hope this doesn't sound half-baked or presumptuous... still groping toward the light!)


  1. "My life, I will not let you go except you bless me: then I will let you go." (Karen Blixen/Isak Dinesen)

  2. "Death is not the opposite of life. Birth is the opposite of death." Eckhart Tolle

    At a deep level, this feels true- that life is everlasting. Birth and death are merely transformations.