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Location: California

I love paper. Books printed on acid-free paper and bound in cloth turn me on. I'm crazy about bookmarks, and I buy too many stickers. I could spend hours in the build-your-own-greeting card section of my neighborhood craft store. My favorite thing to eat is bread, and my second favorite is fruit. (Mm, pineapple.) I read too much and too fast, and I watch too many food shows (two ways of looking at gluttony). Gloomy, rainy weather calms me and so I can't wait to move out of California, which will happen, sadly, too many years from now to count. I'm vegan, though I haven't managed to eliminate honey from my diet yet. I practice yoga; it's the only way I can keep fit. I have a better life than I ever imagined I would (or deserve to) have, but I do my best to enjoy it rather than feel guilty about it. That's my daily struggle -- and also to be thoughtful and observant and honest with myself.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Death

When my grandparents flew back to Romania after a two-month-long visit, my grandmother said as she kissed me good-bye, “Take care then. I don’t think we’ll see you again.” She looked sure that she was going to die soon. She’s in her early eighties and worries a lot about having enough money for a nice funeral. She wants to sell the house she and my grandfather have lived in for almost fifty years and move into an apartment; she says they need to get used to small, enclosed spaces, that they have to get ready for their coffins.

I don’t worry any more about my own death. It seems insubstantial; I can’t think of it as a thing that’s going to happen to me but as a sort of nebulous passage into a state that is outside my mind’s ability to comprehend. But I do worry about the deaths of other people, those who are close to me and those who are strangers. I’m overwhelmed by how much is lost because of death. I berate myself for not having sat my grandparents down for an hour or two and asked them to tell me the stories of their lives, in all the detail they could remember, so that I can write down all that tangle of experience and thought that makes up who they are. I berate myself for not taking notes during family get-togethers, not recording the bits and pieces of my relatives’ lives that they are willing to share.

There’s a statistic that twelve thousand people die all over the world every day; this fills me with horror. It’s not horror at their physical death, which is part of the necessary order of things. But the fact that all those people’s minds, their inner lives, no longer exist, is unacceptable to me. I want there to be a record of every person’s passing, a record of all the billions of everyday lives that have materialized on this planet like a soap bubble then burst into non-existence again. I want to set up a booth, like Studs Terkel did, in train stations and airports over the world and ask people to tell their stories.

I don’t believe in life after death; the mind seems to me inexorably tied to the body. But that we should be so much when our bodies are alive, and nothing when our bodies are dead, doesn’t cease to confound me and, for this reason I think, keep me writing.

4 Comments:

Blogger Jonathan K. Cohen said...

There is a national project to do just what Studs Terkel did -- to ask people to tell their stories. It's called StoryCorps, and is run by David Isay, a brilliant radio producer (see Sound Portraits for some of his work.)

As for death, it's a vast subject. Equanimity seems to come in a chorale from a Bach cantata, BWV 4, where Luther writes "Der Tod ist mir Schlaf worden" -- "Death has, to me, become sleep" -- but there, there is a presumption of an afterlife, for which this life can be joyfully exchanged. There is so much I do not know.

January 22, 2006  
Blogger Marigoldie said...

I get so uncomfortable thinking of the untold stories. One of my dream jobs is to be an obituary write--I would write explicit, lively accounts of people's lives instead of just filling out a form with the basics. Now that my hometown newspaper is online, I read the obituaries every day.

January 23, 2006  
Blogger madness rivera said...

I read obituaries often also. I want to know how it all can be summed up so nicely. Obit's with photos preferred. I think of what my own will say; hopefully I'll write it myself and that way the final edit won't piss me off.

It's funny that you think the mind is so connected to the body. What makes you think that? I feel the exact opposite: The body only a vehicle to transport the mind around for a while; so hopefully the consciousness can be raised a little higher, or lowered depending. I feel we should spend so much time trying to stay healthy only to have a little longer to raise the consciousness, you know, get our mental and moral shit together.

But what do I know. I know something of Death and I know nothing of Death.

January 23, 2006  
Blogger Green Whale said...

Thanks for the reminder to read obituaries, and also for the music listening suggestion.

It is a little foolish to attempt to talk about such a vast subject as death in just a few paragraphs but I thought I'd try. It's not a bad idea to fail at things every once in a while.

For me the mind-body connection is intuitive. I can't make any argument in favor of it. I'm trying to stay healthy because it keeps my mind clear in the here and now.

Thanks a lot for reading and taking the time to post comments.

January 24, 2006  

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