August 2, 2009

The Dead

"One by one they were all becoming shades. Better to pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age. He thought of how she who lay beside him had locked in her heart for so many years that image of her lover's eyes when he had told her that he did not wish to live.

"Generous tears filled Gabriel's eyes. He had never felt like that himself towards any woman but he knew that such a feeling must be love. The tears gathered more thickly in his eyes and in the partial darkness he imagined he saw the form of a young man standing under a dripping tree. Other forms were near. His soul had approached that region where dwell the vast hosts of the dead. He was conscious of, but could not apprehend, their wayward and flickering existence. His own identity was fading out into a grey impalpable world: the solid world itself which these dead had one time reared and lived in was dissolving and dwindling."
--James Joyce, "The Dead"
I'm often afraid to recall the fragile state of the human body. Just a heart pumping blood, again and again, until it can't anymore. And as scary as that is, no healthy person usually gives a second thought about all that. Instead, we tend to think about life as the carving out of an existence for ourselves, the formation of relationships, and all the experiences and ties that make us human.

I think all we ultimately want is to avoid the realization that we are actually dead in every way but one. They say that life is what you make of it, but they forget to tell you that sometimes you just don't end up making it much of anything. One day you might be pressing criss-crosses into peanut butter cookie dough, and the next, finding that a dead man has more of an impression on your wife than you have ever been capable of making yourself.

How must it feel to join the dead in the form of a heartbeat that fuels an organic mess; how must it feel to fathom that fragility without fear, the way only the dead can?

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