Friday, March 2, 2012

And As To

And as to you corpse, I think you are good manure, but that does not offend me,
I smell the white roses sweetscented and growing,
I reach to the leafy lips. . . I reach to the polished breasts of melons.

And as to you life, I reckon you are the leavings of many deaths,
No doubt I have died myself ten thousand times before.

- Walt Whitman, "Song of Myself"

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Walt, Walt, Walt, you beautiful sonofabitch.

* * *

And as to you, reckoning with time, worried about your reckoning––the malicious endgame that is either too soon, too sudden, or not soon enough in the dregs of a diseased body––I think you are good manure and if you can come to see that in yourself the weight of your worry is lifted. No lie. No doubt you have died ten thousand times before. You've just been forgetting.

* * *

I'm paraphrasing here, but I heard Woody Allen describe his artistic obsession with death in this way: Life is filled with the most horrible, unspeakable acts. There's violence and greed and depression and anxiety and it is all over too soon. For Allen, as miserable as it may be, he likes being alive and will bear up the pall of all that is shitty because, well, death is worse.

Except it is not. Death is neither good nor bad. It is beyond categorization. It simply is. It is neither to be wished for, nor avoided. It will find you eventually: behind the wheel of your car, out for a jog, standing in your garden, watching your grandchildren play, alone in your sleep, hooked up to machines, in the light of morning, in the cool of evening, in a snowstorm, underwater, by sudden violence, by old age, with a needle in your arm, with a smile on your face, a lightning bolt, an accident, slipping on ice, by gunshot, through hatred, surrounded by your family, looking out at treetops, in prison, in the home you were born in, in strange lands, as a soldier, as a bystander, swamped by nature, bitten by a snake, hit by a train, death by misadventure, death by stupidity, unjustly, with malice aforethought, as a kindness, a blessing, in pain, out of your mind, in a coma, at the dinner table, on vacation, in the flower of youth, at the moment of birth, fallen from a great height, in a fire, by lethal injection, by infection, filled with cancer, filled with joy, whether you accept it or not.

We are but the leavings of many deaths that have come before, that we will be part of, that will trouble those who follow until they can see in themselves the key to their happiness: the inevitability of manure.

* * *

Marcus Aurelius writes:

You have functioned as part of something; you will vanish into what produced you.
Or be restored, rather.
To the logos from which all things spring.
By being changed.

For Aurelius (and other Stoics) change, transformation is the basic, ground floor truth of life. It is nothing to be feared, but rather embraced so that while you live you are aware of the transformations all around and are part of it.

Frightened of change? But what can exist without it? What's closer to nature's heart? Can you take a hot bath and leave the firewood as it was? Eat food without transforming it? Can any vital process take place without something being changed? Can't you see? It is just the same with you––and just as vital to nature.

The job we have is to be awake to the changes that are endlessly flowing through us while we live. It is a conceit to imagine anything can be held still, held back, clung to. Life exists in flow, in flux, but we are guided by our senses not our minds, not our souls. We fear change because each change is a harbinger of the change from life to death. Look to every process and project completed that you have known in your life. Look. You have moved through thousands of changes and as a result have left behind thousands of pieces of your life that no longer fit or work. You have been changed even if you haven't noticed.

I think you are good manure, but that does not offend me,
I smell the white roses sweetscented and growing,
I reach to the leafy lips. . . I reach to the polished breasts of melons.

You are moving through transformation, out and in, with every breath, with every step, with every thought. Don't fear it, or resist it. Play while you can. Using up time worrying about when you'll run out of time and the circumstances of that clock running out is what fucks you up. Let it go. And get going.

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One of my favorite passages from Aurelius:

Alexander the Great and his mule driver both died and the same thing happened to both. They were absorbed alike into the life force of the world, or dissolved alike into atoms.

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