Mortality

Skull facsimileWe humans have contemplated mortality for as long as we have been conscious – we’ve developed philosophy, and arguably, theology from it. So many do so much to avoid the inevitable, and yet it remains. We have people working right now to squeeze a little more life into our mortal coils. We live longer because of modern medicine, shoveling coal into the engine of society.

But… why? Are our lives so great that we simply have to continue on? How many more years of traffic, of software patches, of reveling in the idiocy of ‘leaders’… do we want more of that, not less? Do we want to work longer toward a retirement that society robs us of through the flawed ponzi scheme of economics that are based on the assumption that a larger population will produce more and thus be able to support a minority of aged people? There’s so much wrong with that assumption.

And yet, when in a hospital bed, being told by someone who casually hangs a stethoscope over their neck, that they will die… there is surprise. There is denial. There are questions of how long. There is almost no question of the quality of life except in movies and television shows. Those who believe in a deity will make urgent requests for more time, more medical bills, more of the same of  life that so few actually get to enjoy before. Those who do not believe may accept or not, they may fight or not, but typically they do not accept (denial), they do fight. Every breath is a battle.

Spoiler: We’re all going to die at some point. Every breath is a battle anyway; nothing has changed other than someone assigning a possible date that is closer than we might have expected. The world continues to spin.

Some of us fight for relevancy beyond our lifetimes – very few are actually remembered. Think of all those dressed so well after they died, over the ages. As of 2016, there were 100.8 billion dead humans. Our global population is roughly 7 billion at this time. How many are remembered? How many stand out? How many dead people can you think of right now? And how many of them will be remembered in a few hundred years?

But societies, cultures, civilizations – we remember those as we are taught, as was recorded by those who bothered. Even the dead ones. Especially the dead ones.

And underneath all of this, underneath all the things in ‘life’, there is this mortality that we deny through our actions, our words… and what we do not deny, we reinvent into another life, as if this one wasn’t quite enough. As if we have some higher purpose defined by people thousands of years ago scribbling into books.

And yet there are some, very few, that accept that they are already dead. Maybe they’re onto something. Maybe we already are, maybe we’re just echoes of society’s demands, the tools of our tools (Thoreau), going through the motions like Sisyphus, our blood turning the wheel of the great engine of society driving us… where?

Grief

GuiltWhen we lose someone, we feel varying degrees of sorrow. There’s no real scale; it’s the common wisdom of counseling that there are varying scales of sorrow and that some who have a mental illness feel things more… but that’s all based on how we react to emotion and is hardly an empirical measure across different people.

We all feel things differently.

Here’s my thought: When we lose someone, we lose everything that person meant to us – consciously and unconsciously. We grieve this loss, sometimes without even understanding the losses involved, and now and then we are reminded of the loss. It’s only when we come to terms with what was lost that we can move beyond grieving. The things that remind us are the things we need to address – not necessarily to forget, but to understand what exactly was lost.

As they say, you do not know what you have until it is gone – but the depth of that is lost in a two dimensional expression, and is impossible to communicate to others without the context of that loss. The more complicated the relationship, the harder to communicate – the more commonality, the easier.

In a way it’s very strange to me that it took me all this time to figure that out, and in a way it makes sense that it did.

And it was a great lesson from a candle that burned fast and bright in my own life, and one I shall not forget – and shall cherish.

It’s only when we learn the lessons we need to that we evolve beyond grief.

Imagined Conversation.

My Late FatherYesterday marked 12 years since my father passed away. I am reminded every year in Trinidad and Tobago only because of Emancipation Day.

To say that our relationship was complicated would make a British person cringe at such use of understatement. We rarely agreed on anything, and if we did we, as individuals, wondered what was wrong.

So I wondered how the conversation would go, so many years gone by and myself having grown entirely out from under his shadow.

I expect my father would start it off. He was good about that.

“I’ve been dead 12 years. What have you done?”
“Well, I’ve turned things around on the land. People have gotten to know me and are coming around.”
“Good. You learned how to deal with them. I didn’t think you had it in you to squeeze them.”
“Well, I didn’t squeeze them.”
“What? They’ll take advantage of you!”, growling, “You can’t be soft! They’ll walk all over you!”
“Well, they walked all over you when you were confrontational.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“I have 12 years of knowing what I’m talking about. Your ashes blew away from Mosquito Creek with you not having enjoyed anything about the Estate. I tell the people who have problems with you to go down there and shout into the wind.”

He sighs, grinds his teeth and looks off.

“So, are you married yet? Children?”
“Nope.”

He sighs, grinds his teeth and looks off.

“What about your cousins? Are they dealing with their land?”
“That’s not my business.”
“So you don’t know?”
“Ask them yourself. The answer they give you may not be the answer they give me, the answers they give may not be what they are actually doing. Why waste time worrying about things like that?”

He glares at me, then sighs. “That was always the problem I faced.”

“And I don’t have that problem simply by not making it mine.”

“What happened to the workshop?”
“Oh, you’ll love this. Your sister closed it.”
“What?!”
“Yes. Your brother had a stroke, a lot of things happened afterward that boiled down to her taking control and she closed it. ”
“You were supposed to run it! Or one of your cousins!”
“Well, truth be told only one of us ever really wanted to run it and when it came down to it, he didn’t really want to either. And your sister made sure of that.”
“Hmm. Which sister, anyway?”
“What, you folks still don’t talk?”
“Don’t be a smartass, tell me which sister.”
“Does it matter?”

Again, the glare.
“No, it doesn’t.”

“See, you’re all dead but two. It’s a brave new world.”
“How is it?”
“If you were here, you’d probably die of heartbreak.”
“Oh.”
“Yeah. So did you ever talk to your father like we’re doing now?”
“Many times.”
“Drove you crazy, didn’t it?”
“What do you mean?”
“You never really got out from under his shadow, did you?”
“What?!”
“Well, the closer to death you got, the more you talked about his visions and plans.”
“I did?”
“Yeah.”
“I didn’t realize that. So are you trying to do the same as you get closer to death?”
“Nope. Your visions and plans are gone with you – have been for 12 years.”
“So why the HELL are you even talking to me?”
“I thought it would be interesting. I thought about how you imagined your father, and I imagined mine. And you’re here. And now… you’re gone, left as a part of my memory and imagination in a small room of my mind. I may visit you from time to time, but you are only me remembering you.”
“You always talked about shit like that. Unproductive!”
“Generally speaking, yes, this was unproductive. But it was closure.”
“What?! You little…”

And he’s gone. What’s more, I’m free of him.

Time

Do You Want to Fall in Love She AskedA strange thing, time. It’s our way of explaining things, of looking at the past and the future. It connects us and disconnects us.

The concept of time varies by culture.

We don’t think enough about something that has such control over the way we deal with our lives – and how ‘time’ varies with people we interact with in a global community.

They say that time heals, but if time heals it’s by transporting us to somewhere else – sometime else – where things are different. It’s not time that changed, it’s our environment – internal and external – that changes, and we mark it in our own versions of time.

And if we remove time altogether, we flatten our lives into a summary of all the interactions we’ve had and how we’ve interacted with it.

The living call this death.

Suddenly, She Was There

I’d been avoiding smartphones, using a basic phone for a while, partly because of a self-imposed exile from noise. But I got another smartphone because I had found a half decent reason to and a way to make it work for me without subjecting me to too much noise. I’d thought this through, as I always do – cool, rational. I’d pay for data when I wanted it, subsisting instead on WiFi so I wouldn’t get charged for WhatsApp jokes I’d seen and even posted years ago.

It’s a sound plan that allows me a discrete camera for street shots, so I can blend with the writing. It’s not a great camera, but I let that lay for the price. The price of freedom is sometimes compromise.

And so, despite the work of the helpful young woman who set basic things up on the store, I went through the Android device and configured it as I wanted it.

I logged into my Google account, set up email, pulled my contacts, etc.

And today, as I was about to send a text to someone, the SMS app helpfully showed those I messaged the most and… after all of this time… her name was there.

Her name. Hers. That name. The name I don’t speak often for fear of it all boiling over. The conversations late at night, the text messages flying back and forth, our secret codes. Her name.

That conversation at 2 a.m. about whether she should have that surgery to have her other ovary removed. The hopeless conversations about endometriosis, a sinister condition for her. The idiocy at her job, hew she had invested so much of her life into the company to see it being pulled in a direction that diminished her.

It wasn’t all bad or it wouldn’t have been. We had well matched quills, and for two people who were noted for being stubborn we had an odd habit of listening to each other and of being able to communicate with a word or a glance. We had the crazy nights where she sang country songs I hated, or where she put up with my own insanity as I bubbled up from the other world I visit as often as I can. The way we pushed against each other to allow us to be more ourselves, the way our backs immediately came together when we were surrounded by the idiots.

Then there was the shock of her suicide that wasn’t as much of a shock as a painful finality for me. She’d told me what she would do when the pain was too much for her and I thought it was… not as soon. That there was time.

There wasn’t.

We wonder about those things even when we understand them.

And after all these months, she’s the one I message the most according to Google.

And she’s gone, but still pulled a final ‘gotcha’ on me.

Brat. I do miss her.

Life’s For The Living

2010-04 Winnersh Dinton Pastures 022
Photo by Edmund Gall. 

I’m no stranger to Death. It’s something that I’ve dealt with a lot professionally and personally – yet over the last 4 months, I’ve had 3 people close to me in different ways die.  I’ve been surrounded by people dealing with death for almost 5 months at this point, and the various ways in which death is handled by people.

I sat thinking about all of this for months, sometimes actively participating in funeral rites and the logistics, sometimes not. There is really nothing new to write about death. A few days ago, I had a moment of clarity after months of numbness.

I had been spending an inordinate amount of time with death in the last 4 months, dragging previous experiences into the mix, listening to the litany of loss from people around me as they mourned separate losses embodied by the same persons.

We, the living, spend more time dwelling on death than I would like to think the dead spend on the living. We bait our own traps of suffering, mourning what was and the illusion of what could have been.

The three close to me all made the world a better place on a grand scale through their lives. One did it through technology, one did it through her children, one did it through his passion and talent for music – yet all of them were more than what people knew them for, touching lives around them in ways that they didn’t understand or know. I got to see each of them through the mourning of others and what was being mourned.

They are gone.

I am here.

 

 

Odie

Away from Ohio,
Wearing a uniform that stinks of
Mothballs, sweat
And burned starch.
The work-shoes sparkle as
Stray light glances
Through the glass door.
Images flicker on these black screens.
Gurneys flash to one from the other as
The sounds from well-oiled wheels filter in
(The audience is listening)
The clock stops
Little hand on 2, long past 3,
A voice echoes.
“Time of Death:
2:17 a.m.”
Motion stops as the clock moves again,
And in the background, a near whisper:
‘And his dog’s name was Odie.’