THE WAY THINGS ARE
Breath leaves our bodies and that of other warm-blooded species, taking warmth with it. Death is cold.
A breeze ruffles the grey feathers of a pigeon mangled on the road, its adrenaline and fear-ridden life over. An emaciated kitten runs past it crying for its vanished mother. The ant sprayed or crushed beneath feet has its own survival role, each life journey, long or short is towards death.
A neighbour passed peacefully away at 95, a gentle man whose life was practically uninterrupted by ill health of consequence. Before his demise a family I’ve known for years were in shock and sorrow when their daughter miscarried her third baby, all three reached six months before aborting. They were devastated but she’s determined to have a child and, knowing her courage, she will try again, facing the prospect of one of the saddest deaths anyone can endure – child death.
Two elderly friends know that cancer has taken up unwelcome residence in their bodies, with it the knowledge that a possible death sentence walks every step with them. It’s a horrendous thought they have come to terms with while hoping there is always a chance of reprieve.
One said to a commiserating voice, ‘I’m not dead yet.’ The other told me, ‘It’s like stages of grief: the shock, the fear, the wish to deny, then acceptance and how do I deal with this.’ Both, like the young woman above, are fighters, will not acquiesce or brook negativity.
It irked me when someone referred to the age of one, ‘He has only a few years anyway.’ He’s still productive and doing his best to help himself and suffer through chemotherapy. The last thing a genuinely sick person needs is negative sympathy.
Thoughts of death enter the consciousness now and then as the passage of time implies a countdown towards the breath taking flight. When I mentioned to some friends that I was considering giving up my old shell for medical science, the replies were mixed. One said, great idea, I might do that too. Another said the medical students would make jokes about me as I lay naked, exposed on a slab. I won’t hear them.
The third, a religious lady told me they’d chop up my body and I wouldn’t be whole at the resurrection. All I could say to that was, I’d have plenty of company. I’d be with all the people killed by bombs or incendiary devices of war, people crushed under buildings when an earthquake happens, those washed out to sea by a tsunami or die by any other form of drowning in which bodies are never recovered and eaten by fish, or people in accidents who lose limbs.
Is there an afterlife? I’d like to think so even though I can’t see it. If it were true, I’d like to imagine the soul is our breath, and when it leaves us it takes our life experiences with it to store in a universal vault of knowledge back from whence we came.
When did humankind begin to use imagination, how was it triggered? Our evolving species moved from form to form, our brain function changing with our shapes as we gathered to us more than mere sustenance. Fear brought thoughts of starvation or what a wild animal or another body could do to us. What brought on the antidote to fear, the belief that praying to some greater, unseen entity could help us? Where did the desire for burial rituals begin? Every ancient culture had its own rituals for the dead, burying with them food for the adventure after life, offerings to gods they might encounter, tokens of love buried with a body, symbols that represented status or courage, monuments created in their memory.
And when did we start to believe in ghosts and visitations from departed spirits? The comfort we took from ritual and imagination comes from the mind which did not wish to accept that death was the end.
Was imagination, providing solace to pain and loss evolution, or as a Druid friend insists, a gift from the old gods?