Monday, May 15, 2006


For Death who takes what man would keep,
Leaves what man would lose

On a list I belong to we were talking about death, because the mother of one of our company is dying. One person said suffering is opaque and unredeemable, because we die. But another quoted a story of a wave fearing its death, only because it thought it was a wave; it didn't know it that really it was water. A third, whose father died recently, said simply, and with by far the most authority, "Death sucks."

I wrote a long blowhard response of my own, of course. But while I still do believe what I said -- it too was in the wave-and-water line -- its emotional tenor was all wrong. It sounded like I was saying it was fine that people die. And maybe it should be fine, maybe it is for buddhas. It's not for me.

But. This is what I wanted to say: for me death is not something strange and unexpected erupting in our midst. It's only the most obvious of a series of dissolutions and losses. The friends I no longer have, by circumstance or stupidity. They're dead to me. Every moment of love that passes, every endearment forgotten, is a little death. We're dying to each other every day, becoming inaccessible in a multitude of ways. An acquaintance who was friendly to me yesterday is impatient with me today. Death of an infant friendship. Could be. I don't know yet. I may never know. Hundreds of deaths took place around me today, which won't be revealed as such for weeks, months, years. Lifetimes.

The only thing that's special about real death is that everyone agrees on it. It's an obvious turning in that road. Take the first left, you can't miss it. It's an event with a name, that's all. It's when it's publicly acceptable to grieve for all the accumulated losses of a shared life that has been disappearing into darkness all along.

Or into light. We don't know. I love you now. How strange it is, that we live in this little window of the present, this little glimmer of visible light.

I love you now. The incense-ash falls, all at once, at a breath. Where is the stick of incense, now? In the past? In my mind? The feebleness of the answers tells us that we're asking the wrong question. But it also tells us that our answer to the same question, twenty minutes ago, was just as feeble. We thought we knew then; we think we don't know now. Both wrong.

I love you now. Death is the right question, and that's the right answer. I love you now.

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