Life and death ponderings

Dance, when you are broken and open.
Dance, if you have taken off your bandages.
Dance in the middle of fight.
Dance in your blood.
Dance, when you are perfectly free.
~Jelaluddin Rumi

This is a text I wrote when the guy I used to know suddenly died. Unexpectedly. He was shot in the head in the middle of the day. Just because he stood up for something, just because he cared. Because he was a bigger person than his surroundings. At the beginning of the text, I used the quote I once posted and he found himself in it and talked to me eagerly about it.

death ponderings with life

What to do in moments like these? When death comes suddenly and unexpectedly. Or maybe even, unfairly. Death is something we don’t usually think about. We keep it locked in certain parts of our subconscious, carefully buried from the collective unconscious on the graveyard outside of town. We only remember it when someone dies or when we visit their graveyards.

When something like this happens, we are struck. Lost. One minute someone is here, next minute he is not. How does that happen? In moments like these, I feel existential hole opening near me and that raw, indifferent universe of Jean-Paul Sartre hits me on the head, not caring about us, small people, at all.

And then I start thinking about all the things which I usually keep at bay. Carefully arranged to stay on the bay of my consciousness. So I scroll through the pages of different Buddhist books, or existential books, as if I am going to find a recipe to comfort me at 2 AM. But all in vain. Faces of people at the funeral are inconsolable. There is only grief left to go through. There are only people or things left that person left behind.

And then when I suddenly recognize the passed always person in someone else’s smile, I find myself thinking: But that is also something.

Zen guru Thich That Hanh argues that death exists only in our head. It is a concept, he says. We never really begin to exist and never really cease. It is just that, when all the conditions for our manifestation arrange, we begin to exist and to manifest. And when the conditions for our existence are no longer there, we stop manifesting. But we are still here, he says. Kind of like TV-waves. They are here all the time, but if you don’t have a receiver, you don’t receive them.

Oh come on, my inner skeptic rambles at 2 AM while I keep pondering on the topic of death, should I be consoled by this? I somehow don’t feel my grandfather in the form of waves. What do I do with this wave-analogy? I love zen, but sometimes these zen concepts are so abstract, so removed from everyday experience. But maybe it is for this reason that I am not a zen guru.

Thich Nhat Hanh further says that he missed his mother until he realized that he carries here inside of himself. That she is in his hands, and in what he does. That is already something, I say to myself. And indeed, I find my friend in the smile of his family. I find my grandfather in the combinations of cheese and eggs, which he loved to eat every day. I find my grandmother’s love in the socks she gave me so that my legs wouldn’t be cold in the winter, and in multipractic she gave me. I find my other grandmother in texts and intellectual defiance I got from her. And in this manner, things become more concrete. I find my dog in the love connection which still connects me to him very tangibly, although he is not on this worl anymore.

It seems that in each one of us there is indeed a part of the other.

For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.
~Walt Whitman

And so. Existentialists such as Camus would tell me now that the basic idea is to live in spite of death. In spite of death, one finds the courage to live. Like, the hell to all, I will live now in spite.

When I was still in high school, and ideas of life and death and existential holes were far away from me since I had to deal with more concrete stuff such as going out ;), I got my hands on Coelho’s book Veronika decided to live. Ironically, but that book, which then represented an interesting idea beyond this reality had in itself that what later in life would interest me – ponderings on important existential questions, on life, on death and on that “inspiteness”

And although I found further Coelho’s book hard to read, Veronika is still special for me. More than 20 years after. Because I realize today how concretely the topics which we like to keep at bay are elaborated in the book. Questions we are forced seek answers to when existential wholes suddenly open in our lives. And it is only today that I really understand the “camus”-like nature of her “in spite”.

Iva Paska