Someone is dying. There’s always someone dying. Always someone on the verge of their own oblivion. Always eyeing the razor line between everything they know and that thing which is unknowable. Unfathomable. And that moment is eternal. Eternal to them. Eternal as the structure and composition of all things. The things that make a stone are tiny stones and the things that make death are tiny little deaths compiled in crystalline lattice across time and place.
At this moment, the moment your mind processes the language in these words, other lives are cut short as well. All shapes of lives and life lose their circuits and cease to be what they were before, a final ceasing of the things that constantly change from one instance to another.
By sheer math, the daily demise of insects is incalculable. And now we know that due to Earth’s changing climate, those deaths have increased exponentially. Many species are are disappearing as I write this, as you read this. Again, the result of both human activity and the churn of time. Death comes for us all… A cliche anchored in brute fact.
And of course death on a physical spectrum is the mere disconnection of material. The band has broken up. The team has been decommissioned.
Let me pause here and say, I am not obsessed at all with death. I have not dwelled on death for any extended period of time since I was very young. Maybe 9 or 10. Once I reconciled my disbelief in a spiritual realm, the idea of my demise went from horrific to unfortunate.
Let’s investigate the other side of this for a moment. We are born. We live. We die. The odds of this sequence even occurring is not just astronomical. According to some it’s highly improbable. One statistic is the odds of being born is 1 in 400 trillion. That’s the optimistic number. Another stat is 1 in 10 to the 2,685,000 power! Anyway you look at it, the very notion that you exist at all is almost a fantasy. In a way, the hope against death at any moment is a fool’s hope and wasting any precious time on it seems selfish.
Yet there is death. With the ensuing twilight of the boomer generation, the domino fall of heroes, a vast group of aging artists and thinkers who have shaped my ideas and development, the inevitable has arrived. Over a few recent years, I posted pictures of people I admired who died, as they died. Shine on, you crazy diamond… I would post under their images. I wanted to pay tribute to my heroes, many of whom weren’t all that recognized when they were alive, obscure jazz artists or little known writers as well as very famous artists, musicians.
After a while, this felt wrong. It seemed a shame to glorify the deaths of people who had worked so hard to create art and substance. Anyone who considers themselves an artist or endeavors self expression does so with the hope that it will live on after their material demise. So for me to highlight the end of their lives seemed not only morally wrong but fundamentally incorrect. Are they actually dead? Is Jimi Hendrix dead? Is Marvin Gaye gone? Is Elizabeth Wurtzel six feet under? Is Lawrence Weiner no longer with us? Is Roberto Bolaño lost? Has Robert Stone left the building? Has Joan Didion passed on?
My rubber stamp epitaph, in glorious irony, denies them the opportunity to shine on…
So much for the famous. Let them be.
What of the unknown? Wrong word. Nameless seems incorrect too but it also fits. How many people in my life have loved ones who have died who I will never know? I certainly have my family and friends who have passed about whom I never speak. My grandfathers. Grandmothers. High school chums. Dead and silent now. No more jokes. No more fishing trips. No more questions about how they’ve conducted themselves. No more advice. All those things are still there though. I remember them. Some of them. Many are lost to me, sure. But how many times have I been reminded of things about the dead by someone who does remember? Too many to count.
Aren’t their contributions to to the lives of others just as valid as any revolutionary trumpet player or sculptor? If we are to believe in the improbability of any one life, they must be as relevant! Then why glorify the one thing about them that is as inevitable and mundane as their demise? Death comes for us all but not all of us punched a bully in the schoolyard in 3rd grade. Death comes for us all but not all of us taught a grandchild how to find clean drinking water while hiking in the mountains. Death comes for us all but not all of us told that joke or sang that song or baked that pie.
I had a dear friend pass away from injuries sustained in a vehicular accident. I went to see him languish unconscious in the hospital and afterward I vowed to never again engage in death that way. I’m sure some will say this is wrong but I have not and will not allow this sort of vision to taint my memories. I struggle with the implications, I assure you. I understand that it conveys disrespect. But when “the end” is forgone, I see no reason. I want their life to be just that: alive.
Nietzsche coined a phrase: amor fati. The love of fate. I think we should take his stance with destiny seriously. Each of us has arrived constructed as we are with all our physical traits and mental machinery compiled and functioning as the smallest of cogs in the grand mechanism of the universe, this 13.5 billion year old gadget that will probably, for all intents and purposes, never end (can never end) and we have literally no sway on it from this plane. The energy we filter and the space we consume is eternal and in a very real sense so are we. This is our fate. Love it. Be grateful for it. Have reverence for it. Don’t dwell on some singular boring moment. Don’t worry about the one thing. It is the epitome of insignificance.
Chrysalis, a growing collection of very short fiction.
That Night Filled Mountain
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Unless noted, all pics credited to Skitz O'Fuel.