Consider the ends, we’re told — when the ends are as dim as our beginnings. We do not know about our birth; nor will we know much about our death.
Contemplation of death is a gift life gives us. Fear of death — that is a great danger that can only be overcome by contemplation… and death.
When I was younger, and death seemed distant, it seemed like a small bird in a cage, fluttering against its wire walls. Now that I am older, death seems more like an insolent, angry child — and I am a small bird in the narrow wire cage.
“Once, there was a boy who lived on the edge of a forest and on the edge of a town. His parents were cruel because they were afraid; they could not keep him safe because they were afraid they could not keep him safe. And so
Death is like a gnarled tree that groans and lows across a night-clad fen, except that it travels with us and we cannot leave it for a dry road and smiling town.
When the gods could not save a mortal, they would transform them into an olive tree, a pine tree, or an iris. When we cannot save ourselves, we transform ourselves into stones — our legs still and harden and our faces still. Much better to be a plant than a stone; better still to live.
When Abraham saw that Sodom was to be destroyed, he pleaded with the Lord: “If there are five good men in the city, save it!” I must plead only for myself. And yet, so often, my pleas seem too weak.
My children often ask about salvation and their new bodies. They wonder what their new bodies will look like. They remind me: do not neglect your body. It, too, is a gift. Nor is it something external to you — that way is the way of the Gnostics. You are your body; to be bodiless is to be something less than what you are, a wraith hungering for substance. That is why salvation is not salvation from a body but to a body and from an earth to a new earth. We are not spirits trapped in a body; we are spirit and body, spun together by the master weaver, torn beyond immediate repair, leading us to conclude that the body is foreign and the spirit is all — and yet, someday, the threads will be respun and there will be unity, again, and what a weaving that will be.
“Hello, friend. What is your teleology?”
“I do not know, except in the vaguest sense — what is yours?”
Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)
I was a teenager when I first experienced loneliness. I can’t recall the precise moment — but I have a hazy impression of it, like a meaningful place visited once, all blushes of color with no distinct lines. The thing of it was that I wasn’t alone; I could feel the pulse of other people in the room, I could hear the rumble of their voices, I could sense the air shift as they slipped around me… but more than anything, I could feel that I was alone.
Jean-Paul Sartre once wrote that hell is other people. We may also say that loneliness is other people.
When we speak of being lonely, we do not mean that we are alone; we mean that we have no unity — we mean that we, ourselves, are separated from ourselves. When I was a child, I was never alone. My books kept me company and the universe thrummed with life and begged for my companionship. When I was with friends, we joined together and danced in the brightness of the sun.
Children are like Ulysses. They are “a part of all that they have met” and cannot be alone until they “rest from travel”. Like the “man of many ways”, they take pleasure in their cleverness and creativity and little deceptions. Yet when ten, twenty years pass, when they arrive at what is called home, the world dims and they can no longer find joy…
Our friends have faces but no breath and no depth. We look at them through glossy windows that provide no insight into their souls.
“How are you today?”
“Which you do you refer to, sir? Of which fragment do you speak?”
We think that technology connects us; we likely thought that when the first wheel was invented or when the first human leapt upon the horse’s shaggy back. Then, that first man lied to himself and said, “I can travel long distances with speed. I can move far away from others — and still be connected.”