Showing posts tagged death
Gabriel García Márquez (1927–2014)
“Florentino always kept the notebook in which his father wrote love poems, some of them inspired by Tránsito Ariza, its pages decorated with drawings of broken hearts. Two things surprised him. One was the character of his father’s handwriting, identical to his own although he had chosen his because it was the one he liked best of the many he saw in a manual. The other was finding a sentence that he thought he had composed but that his father had written in the notebook  long before he was born: The only regret I will have in dying is if it is not for love.”

— from Love in the Time of Cholera
(Photograph by Ben Martin. Thank you, Mr. Martin and Vogue.)

Gabriel García Márquez (1927–2014)

“Florentino always kept the notebook in which his father wrote love poems, some of them inspired by Tránsito Ariza, its pages decorated with drawings of broken hearts. Two things surprised him. One was the character of his father’s handwriting, identical to his own although he had chosen his because it was the one he liked best of the many he saw in a manual. The other was finding a sentence that he thought he had composed but that his father had written in the notebook  long before he was born: The only regret I will have in dying is if it is not for love.”

— from Love in the Time of Cholera

(Photograph by Ben Martin. Thank you, Mr. Martin and Vogue.)

Illumination

“The final bridge you cross before coming to the mausoleum is called the Bridge of Ignorance, because it is believed that when you issue forth into the vicinity of Kobo Daishi, you are in a world of illumination. Two lights in the Hall of Lanterns are said to have been burning continuously for almost a thousand years, and the very presence of light is all the more potent for the crowding dark all around. ‘When you are living in a world of typhoon, of fire and lightning,’ the Swiss monk had told me (Koyasan has been assaulted at least four times by major fires), ‘you are living in the second. You don’t wait for anything. You go out and use the day right now.’ ”

Pico Iyer, from “The Magic Mountain” (originally published in Condé Nast Traveler), in The Best American Spiritual Writing 2008

(Photograph: Six Lanterns, Garan, Koyasan, Japan, 2003, by Michael Kenna. Thank you, Mr. Kenna and Condé Nast Traveler.)

Living

by Jason Shinder

Just when it seemed my mother couldn’t bear

one more needle, one more insane orange pill,
my sister, in silence, stood at the end

of the bed and slowly rubbed her feet,

which were scratchy with hard, yellow skin,
and dirt cramped beneath the broken nails,

which changed nothing in time except

the way my mother was lost in it for a while
as if with a kind of relief that doesn’t relieve.

And then, with her eyes closed, my mother said

the one or two words the living have for gratefulness,
which is a kind of forgetting, with a sense

of what it means to be alive long enough

to love someone. Thank you, she said. As for me,
I didn’t care how her voice suddenly seemed low

and kind, or what failures and triumphs

of the body and spirit brought her to that point—
just that it sounded like hope, stupid hope.

— from The Best American Spiritual Writing 2008 (originally published in The New Yorker)

image

[“Living” is included in Jason Shinder’s posthumous collection of poems, Stupid Hope (Graywolf Press, 2009). According to David L. Ulin of the L.A. Times, “many of these poems were composed while Shinder was battling lymphoma and leukemia. (He died in April 2008 at age 52.)” Thank you, HealthCetera, for the photo.]

“The ancient masters slept without dreams and woke up without worries. Their food was plain. Their breath came from deep inside them. They didn’t cling to life, weren’t anxious about death. They emerged without desire and reentered without resistance. They came easily; they went easily. They didn’t forget where they came from; they didn’t ask where they were going. They took everything as it came, gladly, and walked into death without fear. They accepted life as a gift, and they handed it back gratefully.”

Chuang Tzu

And then you walk fearlessly

“I think that the dying pray at the last not ‘please,’ but ‘thank you,’ as a guest thanks his host at the door. Falling from airplanes the people are crying thank you, thank you, all down the air; and the cold carriages draw up for them on the rocks. Divinity is not playful. The universe was not made in jest but in solemn incomprehensible earnest. By a power that is unfathomably secret, and holy, and fleet. There is nothing to be done about it, but ignore it, or see. And then you walk fearlessly, eating what you must, growing wherever you can, like the monk on the road who knows precisely how vulnerable he is, who takes no comfort among death-forgetting men, and who carries his vision of vastness and might around in his tunic like a live coal which neither burns nor warms him, but with which he will not part.”

Annie Dillard, from the final chapter of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

(Photograph: Untitled, 2009, by James Wainwright. Thank you, Mr. Wainwright and Flickr.)

William Barrett: “That is why I weep”

… (in the last anecdote of his book) [William Barrett] tells how he broke down and wept at the spectacle of Delmore Schwartz reduced to his terminal dementia, wildly bellowing and raving. Barrett recounts this awful incident without wasting a word, contemplates the shattered young man he was and concludes: “There crossed my mind the ancient story of the father weeping for a dead child. A stoic philosopher, passing by, tells the father: Why do you weep? It is irrational. Your weeping will not bring him back to life. The father replies: That is why I weep, because it cannot bring him back!” So it is his present persona, Professor Barrett, who recollects and (as the existentialists like to say) assumes his emotion. The mature man has the final word.

— from “The American Intellectual Vocation” (a review of William Barrett’s memoir, The Truants: Adventures among the Intellectuals) by H. J. Kaplan (National Affairs)

His envisaged death

“… The world is not intolerable until the possibility of transforming it exists but is denied. The social forces historically capable of bringing about the transformation are – at least in general terms – defined. Guevara chose to identify himself with these forces. In doing so he was not submitting to so-called ‘laws’ of history but to the historical nature of his own existence.

“His envisaged death is no longer the measure of a servant’s loyalty, nor the inevitable end of an heroic tragedy. The eye of death’s needle has been closed – there is nothing to thread through it, not even a future (unknown) historical judgement. Provided that he makes no transcendental appeal and provided that he acts out of the maximum possible consciousness of what is knowable to him, his envisaged death has become the measure of the parity which can now exist between the self and the world: it is the measure of his total commitment and his total independence.”

John Berger on Che Guevara’s death, from The Look of Things

(Photograph by Freddy Alborta: Che Guevara’s corpse in the laundry room of the Vallegrande hospital, Bolivia, on October 10, 1967. Thank you, NPR.)

“I may not believe in life after death, but what a gift it is to be alive now.”

Natalie Angier

Philip Connors on Norman Maclean: “A lifetime of questions”

About once a year I still reach for my dog-eared copy of A River Runs Through It and Other Stories, and it never loses its power or its mystery. No other book I know has more evangelists, as it would have to, being a collection of two novellas and a story published by a university press, and now with beyond a million copies in print. My deep connection with the book—with the leisurely rhythms of the sentences, which matched the rhythms of my childhood spent fishing with my brother—had already blurred the distinction between life and literature, although of course I never suspected the book would one day prove prophetic. But it did twelve years ago, when, just as Norman [Maclean] loses his brother Paul to a violent death, a brother he loved but did not understand and could not help, I lost my own brother, at the age of 22, to a suicide with a semiautomatic rifle.

I’m not sure any sense can be made of his action, and anyway the details are not my concern here. But I do often find myself in the same position as Norman and his father, asking unanswerable questions, searching for something, some bit of redeeming truth to reckon with. There is a scene near the end of the title novella, in which the two of them talk about their son and brother.

“Do you think I could have helped him?” Norman’s father asks.

“Do you think I could have helped him?” Norman answers.

They stand silently, each of them waiting for an answer they know will never come.

 “How can a question be answered that asks a lifetime of questions?” Norman wonders.

— from “A Tough Flower Girl: On Norman Maclean” by Philip Connors (The Nation)

“It still seems far-fetched, my story, even to me. Everyone vanishing in an instant, me spinning out from that mud, what is this, some kind of myth?”

Sonali Deraniyagala, Wave

Love doesn’t die
In reading [Wave] you grieve with her, you survive the unimaginable beside her and in the end you are comforted, elevated, made stronger by the knowledge that love endures. It’s what she knows and what she hopes you will see. “That’s what my big learning has been,” says Sonali. “Love doesn’t die. That’s what made me who I was then and that’s what makes me who I am now.”
— from “In Conversation with Sonali Deraniyagala” by Smriti Daniel (Sunday Times, Sri Lanka)
(Photo: a three-year-old Sri Lankan tsunami survivor. Thank you, inminds.co.uk.)

Love doesn’t die

In reading [Wave] you grieve with her, you survive the unimaginable beside her and in the end you are comforted, elevated, made stronger by the knowledge that love endures. It’s what she knows and what she hopes you will see. “That’s what my big learning has been,” says Sonali. “Love doesn’t die. That’s what made me who I was then and that’s what makes me who I am now.”

— from “In Conversation with Sonali Deraniyagala” by Smriti Daniel (Sunday Times, Sri Lanka)

(Photo: a three-year-old Sri Lankan tsunami survivor. Thank you, inminds.co.uk.)

Waking up begins
Waking up begins with saying am and now. That which has awoken then lies for a while staring up at the ceiling and down into itself until it has recognized I, and therefrom deduced I am, I am now. Here comes next, and is at least negatively reassuring; because here, this morning, is where it has expected to find itself: what’s called at home.
But now isn’t simply now. Now is also a cold reminder: one whole day later than yesterday, one year later than last year. Every now is labeled with its date, rendering all past nows obsolete, until—later or sooner—perhaps—no, not perhaps—quite certainly: it will come.
Fear tweaks the vagus nerve. A sickish shrinking from what waits, somewhere out there, dead ahead.
— the first three paragraphs of A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood
(Image: first edition cover, Simon & Schuster, 1964. Thank you, Established & Daughters.)

Waking up begins

Waking up begins with saying am and now. That which has awoken then lies for a while staring up at the ceiling and down into itself until it has recognized I, and therefrom deduced I am, I am now. Here comes next, and is at least negatively reassuring; because here, this morning, is where it has expected to find itself: what’s called at home.

But now isn’t simply now. Now is also a cold reminder: one whole day later than yesterday, one year later than last year. Every now is labeled with its date, rendering all past nows obsolete, until—later or sooner—perhaps—no, not perhaps—quite certainly: it will come.

Fear tweaks the vagus nerve. A sickish shrinking from what waits, somewhere out there, dead ahead.

— the first three paragraphs of A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood

(Image: first edition cover, Simon & Schuster, 1964. Thank you, Established & Daughters.)

Tom Ford
Can you talk about how you used changing colors to reflect changing moods in “A Single Man”?
[Composer Abel Korzeniowski] wasn’t in the room when I was doing the color shifting. I don’t know if he agreed with that. The visuals, everyone asks me [about] that. I’m a fashion designer so they think style matters. Believe it or not, it’s why it took a long time for me to find the right [film] project. This movie, to me … while it is stylish, I hope the style is always in support of the story, because style without substance is nothing. The important part of this film for me was the story and the emotion. That was key. I tried to use style to help support that, in terms of who these characters are, how they live.
This is also this man [George Falconer] thinking this is his last day on the planet. At the beginning, everything is flat. We have no color. He’s not seeing. And as he moves through the day, and he’s pulled by the beauty of the world, he starts to really look, because things become overly-lush and almost hyper-real, because he thinks it’s the last time he’s going to see these things.
— from “Tom Ford finds that filmmaking perfectly suits his style” by Carla Hay (Examiner.com)
(Photograph by Simon Perry. Thank you, Mr. Perry, Time, and art8amby.)

Tom Ford

Can you talk about how you used changing colors to reflect changing moods in “A Single Man”?

[Composer Abel Korzeniowski] wasn’t in the room when I was doing the color shifting. I don’t know if he agreed with that. The visuals, everyone asks me [about] that. I’m a fashion designer so they think style matters. Believe it or not, it’s why it took a long time for me to find the right [film] project. This movie, to me … while it is stylish, I hope the style is always in support of the story, because style without substance is nothing. The important part of this film for me was the story and the emotion. That was key. I tried to use style to help support that, in terms of who these characters are, how they live.

This is also this man [George Falconer] thinking this is his last day on the planet. At the beginning, everything is flat. We have no color. He’s not seeing. And as he moves through the day, and he’s pulled by the beauty of the world, he starts to really look, because things become overly-lush and almost hyper-real, because he thinks it’s the last time he’s going to see these things.

— from “Tom Ford finds that filmmaking perfectly suits his style” by Carla Hay (Examiner.com)

(Photograph by Simon Perry. Thank you, Mr. Perry, Time, and art8amby.)

We all complete

Something made me sad last night. I watched Never Let Me Go, based on the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro. It’s a blend of science fiction and classic British drama. It’s set in an alternate history going back to the 1950s, when all diseases have become curable, thanks to clones. There’s an organized, fail-safe system of raising healthy children. One day in class, a renegade teacher tells her pupils about their future. When they become young adults, harvest time begins. Their organs will be given to clients or beneficiaries. By the third or fourth donation, the donors’ bodies will no longer sustain them. The donors will not reach middle age. Instead, they will reach “completion.”

What is more tragic—that you never reach middle age because after your third or fourth organ donation you die, or that you reach middle age and your organs give out anyway because that’s what it means to grow old?

Kathy, the film’s narrator, will soon make her final donation. She misses friends who have gone before her, especially Tommy: “I remind myself I was lucky to have had any time with him at all. What I’m not sure about is, if our lives have been no different from the lives of the people we save. We all complete. Maybe none of us really understand what we’ve lived through, or feel we’ve had enough time.”

Yes, in the end we all complete. Donors and donees. Sooner or later, we’re all done. At least in Ishiguro’s dystopia, those donors won’t have to suffer the pains and indignities caused by aging organs. What do you do when your body bails out on you just when you need it most?

In the movie, there’s talk about “soul” (do these clones have it?), “time” (aren’t we all running out of it?), and “deferrals.” That last notion refers to a potential reprieve. Two clones who fall in love with each other may apply for a postponement of their completion—if they can prove that their love is genuine. If they can prove, perhaps through their art, that they have souls. And if that grant of a life extension isn’t just a rumor. Ah, the things we do, the things our brain fabricates, if only to defer the inevitable.

Woke up early this Sunday morning. Yep, greatest achievement: getting up in the morning. Checked out Time for Richard Corliss’s review of Never Let Me Go. He says:

This ostensible passivity [the young clones don’t rebel against the system] may perplex some U.S. audiences even more than the humanoid plot twist. “It’s not a very American theme, is it?” says Ishiguro [born in Nagasaki, has lived in England since he was five]. “It is antithetical to the American creed of how you should face setbacks—that if you fight, love conquers all.” No, it’s more of a Japanese creed, that accepting one’s fate is a form of heroism.

Corliss also quotes director Mark Romanek, who believes that “[this film] is about the brevity of our time on the planet. And when we become aware of how briefly we’re here, how do we make the best of our time? And how do we not come to the end of our life and regret our choices?”

I think of K., who has survived cancer and chemo. I think of my 71-year-old mother, who still goes ballroom dancing twice a week (bless her sturdy bones). Lately, she’s also been going to hospitals and funerals, visiting friends and relatives who have deferred or succumbed to their completions. And I think of M., who lives in Germany and has been e-mailing me about the devastation in Japan since the tsunami last March 11. She admires how the Japanese calmly, sensibly deal with loss. She writes: “We cannot run away from death. It keeps chasing us until we embrace it.”

Will sadness ever let us go? Perhaps, as Kathy says, “none of us really understand what we’ve lived through, or feel we’ve had enough time.” Or we can take a cue from the Japanese: amid all that remains unfinished and imperfect, we can embrace our completion. Perhaps we’re more capable of that fleeting, faltering heroism than we think.

— from my diary, March 20, 2011

“I’d never say I’ve become immune to the completions. But they are something I am able to live with.”

— Kathy in Never Let Me Go (screenplay by Alex Garland, based on the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro)