Thursday, August 06, 2015


We will not be called upon to justify our lives. No ledger appears at the close, no recording angel holds an exit interview. What's forgotten remains forgotten, and the rest spins, as it must, in the slipstream of other people's stories. We are characters in their lives, mostly minor ones, and we play our parts in memory as the staging and the script requires. At the Foundation I see people setting up memorial funds, confident that scores or hundreds of people will donate to someone's memory, and go on donating for years. A few gifts come in. One or two people even give again a year later. But mostly -- your stock falls rapidly, when you're dead.

If you're deeply aware of this transience, you sometimes feel that your death has already sped past, and that your presence here is a haunting. Not so much alive as a living memory, walking carefully on imagined paths: so much of our existence was spent dreaming of things that would never happen. I imagine ghosts cluster most thickly in places they never arrived in life: they search for memories they never had a chance to make. It's Anne de Bourgh, not Elizabeth Bennet Darcy, who wanders the halls of Pemberley.

Still, a pale blue or a pale green fire follows my fingertips as I drag them along the gutters between your ribs, and my own breath is a efflorescence of crimson. The colors are almost intolerably vivid, between whiles. You could make a parlor game of it, if you liked. I prefer to let it be.

Instead, I hear the thud of my heart, like a distant pile-driver, and the tide-surge of my lungs in the stillness. There's a faint echo in the nerve cords, stretched from point to point, which hum under their breath. Listen and the sound will stop; look and the colors will fade. "Only things that can die are real," says someone -- the Unicorn? -- in a Peter Beagle novel. Sure, it's a point of view: To love that well which thou must leave ere long.


Nina T said...

Transience. I suppose we might as well get used it, eh?

Lori Witzel said...

"If you're deeply aware of this transience, you sometimes feel that your death has already sped past, and that your presence here is a haunting." Yepper. Hence, it's now time to go outside, even in August heat.

Lucy said...

'No ledger appears at the close'. It's very hard to accept that, even if our reason knows it, and I don't know if it's good or bad news. I still want to believe that all the thankless, unmarked good things people have done, or even just the bad things they didn't do, that no one really knows about, even them, count somewhere, but they probably don't.

Somewhere there's a book. Maybe, maybe not. Then even the books we made or collected just become musty detritus and a burden. Best to travel light.

Dale said...

Well, given our traditions we can hardly help muddling whether things are valuable with whether they get recorded in God's book. Surely the "nameless, unremembered acts" are valuable whether or no, though? They're really what make the human world, in the long run.

Sabine said...

I like it, I like the thought that my stocks will fall rapidly when I am dead, I find great comfort in this memory: When my grandmother was 103, she decided she had enough and went to bed (she died that night in her sleep). She told my father that there was nothing left of her and that it was time to disappear.

Dale said...

Wow. Not many get to exit that way, feeling really finished.