Contemplating one's own demise...disappearance...departure...passing...euphemisms for that for which we have a Grim Reaper: DEATH. And, yes, I've contemplated death in a collective sense many times, but only recently have I been contemplating it in an individual sense. In terms of myself. In terms of my self. In terms of my own being being swooned off the coil by the call of the highly perfumed DEATH.
And DEATH does call us. Its calling is coursing through our instinctual veins. We are all being compelled to shuffle on toward it by this calling, this wooing, as a master calls his or her dog; as a mother calls her child.
We also since we are two-sided resist the call. We drag our feet. We collapse and make out like we are dying anyway. We are dying too soon! Help us! We want to live so we can plod on to the beckoning of the call. Hell. we're gonna die anyway so save us now so that we may live.
We hear the calling through our instinctual ears. We hear it beckoning all through our lives. We never know when the Grim Reaper is going to step out of our peripherals and grab us. We never know when WE ARE GOING TO DIE!
And I feel ridiculous worrying about my own death while all around me from where I am right now on out like rays around and around the world and back to me, in the continuing present, millions of people are being called to step off the BRINK and into the devouring black hole of DEATH, many many millions of them before their time, many, many millions of them living way beyond their time. "Their time." Define that phrase, I can't. Besides, I haven't got the time to define it.
One of the ironies of DEATH that amuses me is how in the midst of its worst catastrophes men keep making love to or raping women and these women are forced by this wild hunger of the male to seed and destroy at the same time to bear the children that are the ultimate results of this loving and/or raping. War and disasters obviously making males horny. War giving males the rights to use all captured women as they wish. To the victors go the spoils. And women in such instances are reduced to spoils. And of course during and after disasters, chaos is in control, and during chaos again there's both lovemaking and rape going on and children being born and being conceived on an hour-to-hour basis.
In the aftermath of the recent earthquake that killed the 300-to-400 thousand men, women, and children in Haiti, women were giving birth--even women dying were giving birth at the same time--from death to birth and from birth to death--think of the babies being born in the Port-au-Prince hospital when the earthquake happened! DEATH! Being born on the Planet Earth means DEATH.
Philip Wylie, an American writer (Opus One, Finley Wren, Generation of Vipers), wrote in his little Jungian-inspired book, An Essay on Morals, that living things gave up eternal life in order to have the ungodly wonderful unearthly pleasure of sexual intercourse and reproducing. His point, if there was such a thing as eternal life, there would be no need to procreate. As aboriginal Garden of Eden or Garden of Allah residents we'd be asexual. How do you distinguish males from females in an eternal setting? There's no need for genderization in such a state. Only when the human monkey realized there was no such thing as eternal life--and he did the first time one of his aboriginal tribe died and he tried to explain it to himself--did he further realize that's what his or her genital organs were for? How exciting aboriginal sex must have been. And don't you think before it was empirically figured out, men were buggering men and women were experimenting with what Sappho would later write poems about? I have often in my literary visions seen men as women turned inside out--the clitoris becoming the penis--the ovaries the testicles.
When we're young we challenge the calling of DEATH. We challenge the Grim Reaper to try and grab us early, as though life is instinctually a mortal game of combat with the assassinating agents of DEATH. And stop here and think of how many agents of DEATH there are attempting to assassinate us every day of our lives. Like when you are crossing a street against the light and a car coming at you starts blaring its horn rather than slowing down to courteously allow you to pass safely on in your anxious quest to reach the other side of wherever you are. A quest so important to your ego that you are ready to defy DEATH in the process of being driven to perform it, the driver of the DEATH agent automobile blaring his horn in doing DEATH's will rather than slowing down courteously and ruining your ego's DEATH-defying determination, or whatever it was that compelled you to play such an insane game.
Oscar Wilde said death had to be a beautiful time, a time of no yesterday, no tomorrow, of no time, of pure silence, and, therefore, pure peace.
Mark Twain said a man who lived life fully was fully prepared to die at any moment during that life.
I think I've mostly thought like Mark Twain in contemplating my own coming death. I try to pack as much life into my daily affairs as I can so as not to think of death much at all and certainly not to worry about it when I'm contemplating doing something that may in reality be defying it. I don't even dwell on the unexpected deaths of friends, associates, or family members. Since 2002, I've lost my best friend throughout life from adolescence to maturity; I've lost my brother (my only brother); I've lost two of my nephews (death got one on a Los Angeles hospital operating table/and death tricked the other one into putting the barrel of his prized shotgun into his mouth and then adroitly pulling the trigger with his big toe); I lost my ex-wife; and just last year, I lost my old blues pal of 30 years--one of my truest of soul brothers.
It's hard, though, to avoid the contemplation of your own DEATH when you reach an age where you are suddenly vividly aware that you've topped the allegorical hill and have started down the steps of the narrow path you know in your mind leads down to your personal hole in the earth, that hole gaping openly armed awaiting your "coming home." As my grandmother the poet used to say, "We're all clay bound," meaning we're all headed back to being the clay from which we at some ancient time came forth from as the slime that crawled out of the slimy oceans and became us. And look how clay has been so beneficial to our surviving--we plastered our cave walls with clay; we made bricks from clay; we made cooking utensils and food-storage utensils out of it; we made our dinnerware out of it; we made our smoking pipes out of it; we smeared our bodies with it to repel insects and heal cuts and cure snake bites and stop itches; we used it to make ovens and kilns; we now use it to make the heat-resistant tiles on the sides of our adventurous space ships--what are they searching for out there?.
I mean, look how important DEATH is in our everyday lives. Our media keeps us constantly aware of the many ways there are for us to submit to DEATH's beckoning and that fatal swipe from the Grim Reaper's sickle (the sickle interestingly a symbol of life--as a mower of wheat as symbolized by the sickle used in the old Communist flags--and death in terms of it being in the hands of the Grim Reaper as well as Old Father Time.
DEATH via war. DEATH via murder. DEATH via accidents. Death via plane crashes. Death via ships and ferries sinking. DEATH via inhumane ways of punishment by those who rule. DEATH via execution and assassination. DEATH via suicide. DEATH via starvation. DEATH via drowning. DEATH via suffocation. DEATH via famine. DEATH via plague. DEATH via DEATH.
DEATH in crossing the street.
In the Haitian earthquake stories in the media it was the number of dead that was important--the record number of deaths from a disaster was being challenged and the talking heads kept you up-to-date on that score. Two hundred and fifty thousand had died in the big South Asian tsunami only a few years back so the media scoreboards concentrated on the Haitian earthquake maybe going to break that record! And it did.
Here in New York City we breathed in the stench coming from the Haitian earthquake every day for a while after it happened. Surely that stench in the aftermath of that earthquake was in the air and blown into our nostrils from across the Atlantic by the northerly winds, don't you think? DEATH is in all the air we breathe. Don't you think we breathe in DEATH daily?
I know all that first night after 9/11 here in my apartment far uptown from Ground Zero I kept being awakened by the odor of something sickly in the air, and on fully awakening, I surely also tasted something putrefied in my mouth--like the dusty ashy taste of the wind-blown dust of those pulverized bodies of the nearly 4000 who had died that morning.
We depend on DEATH for life. Look at all the animals we slaughter daily in order to sustain our carnivorous cravings. Isabella Duncan wrote in her autobiography, she was a vegetarian because she couldn't stand to eat DEAD flesh, and wretched when she thought of swallowing it and then having that DEAD flesh living inside her.
You know something ironic, there's more death going on than birth most days of the week. More people born; more people to die. I highly recommend parents encourage their children to become morticians.
Here was a man who now for the first time found himself looking into the eyes of death--who was passing through one of those rare moments of experience when we feel the truth of a commonplace, which is as different from what we call knowing it, as the vision of waters upon the earth is different from the delirious vision of the water which cannot be had to cool the burning tongue. When the commonplace 'We must all die' transforms itself suddenly into the acute consciousness 'I must die--and soon,' then death grapples us, and his fingers are cruel; afterwards, he may come to fold us in his arms as our mother did, and our last moment of dim earthly discerning may be like the first.
GEORGE ELIOT, Middlemarch
In photographing sky after sky after sky, I long to LIVE in the sky, to escape into it. The sky is so beckoning. Yet, the sky is so dangerous to my life, so full of delusions and illusions. It is like, yes, the earth represents a final resting place but the sky beckons us to chance to live on, to thrust ourselves out into it and leave ourselves at the mercy of it--of course, in our dumb minds we know there is no mercy anywhere in our universe, so walking off into space is to face most probably DEATH though it also theoretically does offer a possible collective escape from the inevitable earthly DEATH we are all (all earthbound living things) doomed to face--our irrational hopes being that perhaps there is escape from death via the sky.
Foto by tgw, "Abstracted Sky #3," New York City 2010.
for The Daily Growler
Another Jazzman Bites the Dust
Steve Reid, 66, American jazz drummer, cancer