What Matters When All Is Said And Done – A Blast From The Past from Oct. 2008

*A couple of days ago I went down a rabbit hole looking for fados.  This is not so much older woman renewing interests from when she was young.  I never really liked fado singers, except for mom.  And that was the issue.  I was looking for fados mom sang when I was young.  Anyway, I happened on the funeral of Amalia on youtube.  Amalia was a great (possibly the greatest) fado singer.  Anyway, it was fascinating watching the culture from outside.  Something struck me when they interviewed her priest and he said “I’m happy for her.  She had the death she always wanted.”  This statement is possible of several explanations since apparently she was sure she should have died in her thirties. But I understood it to mean she died the way she’d have liked to.

It is something very few of us — certainly me — don’t give any thought to.  Planning one’s death like other people plan a wedding.  It’s interesting and fascinating and utterly alien.  Would it have been alien to me thirty years ago?  I think so, but honestly I don’t know.  Anyway — that thought brought up this post.*

What Matters When All Is Said And Done – A Blast From The Past from Oct. 2008

Thought out of nowhere — or perhaps not since I’ve “faced” this in many books and stories, from Tom in Draw One In The Dark facing the Great Sky Dragon and knowing there’s no way he walks out of there alive, to the girl in Something Worse Hereafter — in the Wings collection — who knows she’s dead, but there’s a second death and not how permanent, to probably countless others I’ve forgotten.

Those last few minutes fascinate me.  Oh, people die in their sleep, people die without knowing they’re going to die, but I suspect most of us are starkly wide awake for the end and we know there’s no return, that this time there will be no save.  We come into the world without knowing ourselves, and all the time we’ve known ourselves we’ve been alive.  How is it to face the undiscovered country?

This is wholly separate from religion, btw.  I’m one of those for whom faith requires and effort and a silencing of the mind.  I know what they say is on the other side, but is there?  Curiously I never doubt those I love or have loved go on, cats and dogs and people alike.  The world would have to be a nonsensical thing and life less than sound and fury for death to erase my beloved paternal grandmother, my flawed maternal grandfather or the childhood friend who died much too young.  It would have to be a strange place to have forever destroyed Petronius the Arbiter, cat from Hades.  No, somewhere I’m sure they’re alive and still integrally themselves, as is Pixel the “speaker to the humans” orange fuzzball I miss everyday.

But those people — yeah, cats are people too, got a problem? — were special individuals, in their own way saints of heros or… bigger than life.  As for me, who am none of those, who can tell? I have a vague idea life continues in some form and hope there will be books and cats, if I’ve been very, very good, but the preferred outcome might be that there is nothing but oblivion.  Perhaps this makes me morbid, but my secret wish is that there is literally nothing on the other side.  Just… as though I’d never existed.  After life’s fitful fever (s)he sleeps well and all that.

Once I came  close enough to those final moments that it seemed a sure thing.  In fact, during an eleven day stay in hospital I came close to crossing that gateway at least twice.  (Might have been three times.  My blood ox was so low most of the time, that I don’t remember very clearly.  Brain damaged, I tell you.)  So… what was there?

Well, like the prospect of being hanged in the morning, coming face to face with your mortality at 33 does concentrate the mind wonderfully.  There are so many things I want, so many things I think, so many things I am.  And then when it all came to the end, in the silence at the eye of the storm, it all settled down and simplified.  I regretted leaving my husband and was sure if there was something on the other side, I WOULD miss him; I worried for my boys, then one and five.  But above all, around all, I felt as if the novels and stories I’d never written — at the time I was unpublished and had only written five? novels — were screaming at having to die with me.

Yes, my life changed after I got better and left the hospital.  At many times and places people have told me I need to close the office door.  I need to keep the kids out.  I must swat the cats off the keyboard.  I can’t stop in midst novel to go cuddle my husband.  Pardon me but… poppycock.  What comes after is a mystery, but one thing I know and that is that if any form of awareness or thought or memory subsists, I’ll miss my family and friends.  I’m not a good person, but those I love — and not just in terms of sexual love, but my friends too, those I refer to as being “within the magic circle” yes, even my e-daughters and other friends that I’ve only met online 🙂 — I love deeply and I enjoy their company and I will do so as long as I can.

The other thing is that I started taking the writing more seriously — without neglecting my family or friends.  It went from being a wishful, sort of hobby that might one day be a job, and it became a driving passion.  And the reason I write as much as I do.  I don’t want those stories to die unread, in my head.  Life is too important to waste, unlived.  And stories are born to be heard.

Other than that?  I don’t know.  I’ve faced it so many times in writing — what will it be like in real life, and how will I feel when it comes?  One thing I know — it will come.  It sounds like one of those sixties truisms, like “we’re all naked under our clothes” but life TRULY is a fatal condition, and everyone dies eventually.  To pretend otherwise robs our life of urgency and strength.

All I can hope is that if I’m required to face it before I expect to, I’ll do so with courage, because whether there’s nothing on the other side; whether the dreary dust-world of the ancients lurks; whether resurrection and eternal life looms…  in all of those, I’m sure that for those left behind the manner of one’s death will count.  For some reason — probably the movie — I’m thinking of the Greeks at the Hot Gates.  The manner of their death sure as hell mattered.

And for the rest, I’ll leave it in the words of one of those men long dead who I’m sure is alive and vibrant somewhere, and probably still writing:

Cowards die many times before their deaths;
The valiant never taste of death but once.
Of all the wonders that I yet have heard.
It seems to me most strange that men should fear;
Seeing that death, a necessary end,
Will come when it will come.

 

105 responses to “What Matters When All Is Said And Done – A Blast From The Past from Oct. 2008

  1. Fortunately, we live in a reality where animals _do_ have spirits, true love really _can_ last forever, and the Almighty is more interested in how you grew than how ‘perfect’ you were.

    • I just wish the Great Author would giggle more quietly when I lean back in my chair and say “Ahh, a quiet day at last! Now I’ll finally be able to get [thing] sorted out/finished.” The giggles are a little unnerving. 🙂

      • The smirking isn’t any better, I warn you. Or any quieter.

      • when I lean back in my chair and say “Ahh, a quiet day at last!

        What, you actually say that out loud? You deserve what you get for tempting fate.

        • That’s not tempting fate, that’s saying, “Ding! I’m ready for the next level!”

          Feels about the same, though.

          • Yeah, I remember playing Everquest with the dreaded ding-splat… someone makes a level, shouts out “ding”, and then immediately gets killed, losing the level he just gained.

            Never announce it…

  2. I think the reason I am not dead yet is because I have a lot of stories still depending on me too… or something else. The something else is an unnerving thought.

  3. Twenty years ago I was a senior in High School. It was May. The sky was blue, the sun was shining and graduation was only a month away. The pollen floated free on the air…

    Yeah. Pollen. That’s… not so good. I’m the stereotypical nerd with glasses and a hay fever problem. Some years it’s worse than others and that year it was easily the worst it’s ever been.

    So one morning while preparing to get into the shower, my throat closed off. Completely. There was no air getting out… or in. I panicked. I started banging on the walls. I ran out into the hallway. Somehow (don’t ask me how) I ended up back in the bathroom leaning on the sink as the world started to shrink inward and the lights started to go out. I was relaxing, letting go… And I vomited. It cleared my airway. I’ll never forget that first breath.

    But Sarah is right. Something like that is life-changing. Before that day I had heard that being alive is a fatal condition. After that I knew that being alive is a fatal condition. Your perspective on life changes after an event like that.

    I’ll never be a big-time flower guy but that’s not the point. My eyes really opened after that. My concerns were a lot different from what Sarah was talking about, but at that point in time writing was something I only did because I couldn’t not do it and I didn’t have the family concerns. I was eighteen.

    What I learned that day was to not take anything for granted. Every day can be your lost. Any day can be your last. I try to enjoy whatever I can whenever I can. I don’t take life too seriously because I know I’m not getting out of it alive. Other attitudes change though too.

    I remember sitting in a meeting at an investment company I worked for briefly. We were talking about all of the ways we could help people save money to provide security for themselves. Security. Seriously? What is security when you may not be here tomorrow? I’m still not sold on the whole “security” concept. Maybe that’s for better, maybe it’s for worse. I dunno. At the end of the day though, security just isn’t a concept that sits well in my gut. Maybe it’s just me.

    • I have a definition of security that works for me and maybe would for you: Security is not having to look the kids in the eyes and say “There is no dinner tonight.”

    • Interesting tidbit. Once scientists tested some people and found they could make them significantly less leftist by having them write a mediation on their own mortality.

      • I once read a tale by an officer who when faced with some “problem children” soldiers, fond of alcohol-related screwups, found a very effective cure. He had them write the “I regret to inform” letters that would be sent on the event of their death, a task he always hated when duty required him to write one. Evidently was effective and had few repeat offenders. And if they did, well, he already had their letter in the files.

        • That makes sense. Very few people like to contemplate of their own demise, especially while they’re young. But when you’re staring point blank into it the effect hits pretty hard.

  4. Actually I find myself picturing Pete’s reaction to the BluRay release of “Fellini Satyricon”: “Snarl! Snarl! Hissss, Hissss! By what right do they attach my name to this piece of garbage!”

  5. *sigh* And I’m having a day where I read “blood ox” four times, trying to figure out the “having one’s ox gored” connection, before the little “no, idiot, her blood ox– oxygen? You know, the thing that makes perfect sense in context? That is what she’s saying.” light came on.

  6. We’re glad you’re still here, even if the anticipation for those stories makes some of us a bit nutty.

  7. This morning I visited a couple of small local museums to pitch my history book for their gift shops and research collections. It’s a beautiful day between storms, everyone was friendly. The interest ranged from “sounds promising, we’ll look at it” to “Did you bring a case with you? No? Why not? Do you take checks? Small bills? How about the intern over there? Can you do a speaking gig? How much do you charge?” The winter wheat looks good, the crazy drivers seemed to have found a different road for once, and dang, but it was just a great morning to be alive. That is all.

  8. There have certainly been times when I have felt that I would really prefer the oblivion after death thing. I’m sure I will again. However, when it comes down to it…I know we’re all going to go on, like it or not. I’m looking forward to learning *everything.*

    I also had a day when I thought I was going to die. Since I had a little baby at the time, my main thought was “I can’t die! I’ve got a baby to take care of!” I still have people to take care of, but other than that–and a wish to travel the world–I’d be pretty much OK with it.

    • William O. B'Livion

      There have certainly been times when I have felt that I would really prefer the oblivion after death thing.

      What have you done to deserve to spend eternity in my presence?

      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

        I’m not concerned about spending eternity in your presence.

        I’m more concerned if G*d allows me to spend eternity in His presence. [Polite Smile]

  9. How’s that old joke go…
    “When I die, I’d like to go peacefully in my sleep, like my grandfather. Not screaming in terror like his passengers.”

  10. Götz von Berlichingen

    Rorschach’s Journal
    ______________
    Funny Story:

    Dad (who moved on about 5,300 days ago) –>a really funny, philosophical guy. He shit the bed/car/office/business lunches at least 3 times a week for 40 years before slowly succumbing to a brain tumor (and worse, the treatment for it). Sorry if this reality seems insensitive. His ulcerative colitis and permanent loss of blood and guts was, too.

    Mom, ever dutiful, cleaned it all up, day after day, week after week, sheet after sheet. for all of those 40 years, without ever complaining. This, while suffering the slings and arrows of surgeries and partial paralysis for her own degenerative nerve condition. She would gladly have done another 40 years to get him back.

    All this, while running a 50 year family business that they started together. The hardest part of it all? Paying for their own birth control.
    (sorry, thought it said _insert gratuitous Fluke wet towel snap here_)

    Anyway, one night at dinner (back when I was a teenager), Dad blew a complete bag gasket at the dinner table and it ran all over the kitchen floor. The cats immediately came to investigate. Because. Shit! The little butt sniffers can’t resist it. Who knew?

    As the furry little bastards were alll sidling up for a whiff, my brilliant, teenage, spontaneous utterance was “DinDin!”.

    Mom, Dad, and I laughed until we cried. Then we cleaned up.

    End of Story
    ______________

    Not a big Springsteen fan, but one lyric of his particularly resonates with me: “Some day we’ll look back on this, and it will all seem funny”

    That day is today. Take things seriously. But choose those things carefully. Don’t make them the same things, every day. Keep em guessing.

    In “Stop and smell the flowers”, the first operative word is “Stop!” The smelling part just seems so much easier after that. We’re just not that important. Neither is all of the myriad obsessive shit we do every day.

    I can no longer do the Mad-Hatter-Frenetic-Shuffle-in-Fear-of-Maybe-Missing-Something. Did it for decades. Did it for work. Experienced oodles and oodles of noise. Missed a lot of signal. Can’t get that back.

    Life is over when it is. We deal with it as we have to. There are no documented cases of anyone escaping death (except maybe Robert Pattinson, but the risk of having to act with Kristen again, lingers)

    I’d prefer to wake up dead, but if need be, I hope I have the courage to go out like Hemingway did (nothing up my butt, nothing in my arm, a glass of good Cab in my hand, and a hunk of octuple creme cheese clutched in my sausagey little fingers, out on my porch, in January). Pork and clams and Vinho Verde in July? Just as good. (drools in anticipation)

    I’d prefer the ice floe to the shotgun, if only to save the family from yet another “Biomatter Pressurewash in Aisle Three” scenario. That, and I want to look pretty (oh-so-pretty) when they finally dump my silly, inanimate ass in the ocean. Clams gotta eat, too.

    Happy Ending:
    Rubbalips (a grey and white Manx who came complete with dangle to the floor stethoscope drool).

    One Helluva Cat. I WILL see him again. All of the others, too. All of them.
    ________________
    End of Journal Entry

    P.S. Farts ARE funny (in case you didn’t know).

  11. Professor Badness

    I, for one, can’t wait to get to the other side and read the rest of the Lord of The Rings Books.
    I wonder how many Master Tolkien has finished?

    • Yeah. I had this dream where I died and all the cats were there, and Dan too (which is worrisome. I don’t want him to go before me.) Actually he met me at the train station with flowers (what? Like you don’t have train stations in heaven?) and he had this bookshelf where he’d collected all the new Heinleins for me…