That which feeds (What we can’t control reminds us)
Death comes with the realization that the most defining moments of life are beyond your control — you don’t decide when you die, just as you never know for certain when you are going to be born. Except, of course, in instances of suicide, but even in suicide, you rarely can count down to the minute. Most accounts of near death describe a light at the end of a tunnel, a feeling of immense pleasure, images from their past flashing before them as if a reel on a movie screen, but do we ever know what happens when that façade fades? Does it all simply fade to black?
These words come to me, because this is the only way I know how to release the pain that I feel for my loved ones. My loved ones who have lost someone that is dearest to them, and most dear to me. An individual who could light a cigar with a match while driving a standard trans on a bumpy backcountry road. One who could recount the most peculiar stories, pause, continue, then fall asleep in-between, all while clutching their drink without a spill in sight! This is only a simple description of the complexity that this person possessed. Their passing brings up the theory of free will because there are formative moments in our life that we cannot choose a time for. Some might argue that executions are scheduled, but even the people that find themselves on death row know they are likely to sit in a cell for several years, some might even die before they have their lethal injection or electric chair. Just the same, one could say that suicides are planned, but we can never know how long death takes, or how long we recall past the point of unconsciousness. Death is not just of the mind, but of the body, too. There is evidence from beheadings, where the heads were able to function for several minutes past their execution, where they could blink continuously, presumably aware of their decapitation. To say that we can pinpoint the exact moment of birth and death is a complete fallacy considering all the intricacies of humans.
However, there are some things that we can control and that is how we live our lives. We can decide to love and remind those we love of our love for them. Today, I returned a call to my father, and we spoke of death. We broached the subject of funerals, and he remarked that they should be events of joy, that death is something to be welcomed and we must act each day as if we were to die. Platitudes to most people, but it meant something to me hearing it from a man who has lived sixty-five years, once having died, and come back to us. Speaking to him reminded me of Richard Brautigan’s In Watermelon Sugar, because death is approached differently in his dystopian world of iDEATH. Bodies are encased in glass and submerged in a river, for all to visit and remember. It is not clear from the words of Brautigan whether they decompose, but I’ve always imaged them pristine. Their faces only obscured by the passing water.
Today, I also called my best friend of eighteen years and told her how much I love her. I reminded her that I would be devasted if she would leave us tomorrow, that having her in my life is an absolute honor, and that is putting it lightly. She told me that having me in her life reminded her that there is someone for her to live for, despite her depression. Hearing this warmed my body and melted my sadness. When we live each day engrossed by our work, it is easy to forget the feelings of gratitude that arise during a friendship, especially one that’s taken up over two-thirds of my life. We continued to have a long conversation about what it means to socialize as humans, and how the ability to form and sustain connectedness with other humans is an aspect of humanity that is overlooked. Dr. Robert Trivers spoke of reciprocal altruism, which is a fancy way of saying that species have the social capacity to work together, to provide for one another, even though is it costly to themselves and their own survival. It is a subset of connectedness and is not a distinctly human characteristic, but it is often overshadowed by the mundane expectations of human society. We are not taught to look after each other or to show love, we are taught to be the best, to succeed, to procreate, and to care about the bottom line. The bottom line is money. All money is paper or metal. It has no real value aside from that with which we ascribe to it, yet it can determine whether you live or die in this world. It can influence the decisions you do or don’t make as well as the tasks you can and cannot accomplish. Hell, it even tells you what you can and cannot do when you are dead, because if you don’t have it — then, what about the funeral? What about the mortgage that isn’t paid off? What about all the debt that is still under your name? These don’t simply vanish. Rather, they become the responsibilities of those who you legally or [the state] informally bestow it upon. So, as the man does, they manage to make money control you, regardless of your capacity to breathe or your heart to beat.
This only reinforces the importance of connectedness. The human desire for socialization and relationships with other members of its species, and even, with members of other species. I feel more at home when I am outside than any other place. When you take off your shoes, remove your socks, and walk along the damp Earth — this is living. You are directly connected to your environment, able to feel the firmness of the ground beneath your feet. You are reminded of your life and the stability in which the Earth offers, the life that it gives you through all its moving parts. You can interact with the Earth and produce vegetables and fruits and fungus and trees. You can tend to animals and that which feeds them. You are connected to the world and in return, the world provides. In some way, you can say the world is engaging in a relationship of reciprocal altruism — giving to sustain us at an immense cost to itself. Now ask yourself, when will you be giving back?