If I could count all the bodies I've seen dragged out of rivers or lakes, all those corpses stretched out under sheets in various morgues, all those shot, stabbed, strangled, poisoned, blown up or killed more slowly, you'd think I'd be used to death and would fear it less.
These fictional deaths, however gruesome and realistic they seem in films or on the page, remain ultimately a contrivance. The real thing is always a shock.
Just to read or hear that someone you know has died, even someone who's led a long life, is startling: it happened this week when Ed Hayes died at 86, a writer for the Orlando Sentinel. Suddenly, he, that unique, gentle, wise person, no longer exists. Perhaps I should say he no longer has a body. Whatever self remains is unknown, unlocalized. Gone is the person with his unique voice, face, consciousness, memory.
The shock always involves my own recognition that I, too, will disappear, along with all the memories of what I have seen and done.
But, though consciousness ends, my spirit will live and that too, I believe, is real, disembodied and vague though it is. I don't need a body to exist outside of time and space. Some essential part of me, the divine spark, will endure in an eternity that is unknown.
At this time of my life, I should be discarding things, the way I disposed of old files today and some dusty items from the utility room. Yet I continue to buy and consume and live, planning trips and purchases, pushing the fear of the great unknown aside so that life can take over. I try to live in the now.
It has been said that the idea of never dying, of living on indefinitely in this world with all its horrors as well as delights, has little appeal. So I should look forward to the great casting off of this mortal coil, even though I don't imagine "heaven" as a place of endless delights.
Quite by coincidence today, as I threw away old papers, a fragment of a poem by Par Lagerkvist (trans. by Auden) fell to the floor. I read:
"Some day you will be one of those who lived long ago.
The earth will remember you, just as it remembers the grass,
And the forests, the rotting leaves.
Just as the soil remembers,
Just as the mountains remember the winds.
Your peace shall be as unending as that of the sea."