I dreamed a few years back that I was in a supermarket checking out when I had the stark and luminous and devastating realization — in that clear way, not that oh yeah way — that my life would end. I wept in line watching people go by with their carts, watching the cashier move items over the scanner, feeling such an absolute love for this life. And the mundane fact of buying groceries with other people whom I do not know, like all the banalities, would be no more so soon.
When you consider something like death, after which (there being no news flash to the contrary) we may well go out like a candle flame, then it probably doesn’t matter if we try too hard, are awkward sometimes, care for one another too deeply, are excessively curious about nature, are too open to experience, enjoy a nonstop expense of the senses in an effort to know life intimately and lovingly.
I rebel against death, yet I know that it is how I respond to death’s inevitability that is going to make me less or more fully alive.
A human life span is less than a thousand months long. You need to make some time to think how to live it.
Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there. It doesn’t matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away.
“I’ve wasted half my life, Marge. Do you know how many memories I have? Three! Standing in line for a movie, having a key made, and sitting here talking to you. Thirty-eight years and that’s all I have to show for it.”
I can never read all the books I want; I can never be all the people I want and live all the lives I want. I can never train myself in all the skills I want. And why do I want? I want to live and feel all the shades, tones, and variations of mental and physical experience possible in my life. And I am horribly limited.
How come we’ve got these bodies? They are frail supports for what we feel. There are times I get so hemmed in by my arms and legs I look forward to getting past them. As though death will set me free like a traveling cloud. . . . I’ll be out there as a piece of the endless body of the world, feeling pleasures so much larger than skin and bones and blood.
I think . . . that when I die, I can breathe back the breath that made me live. I can give back to the world all that I didn’t do. All that I might have been and couldn’t be. All the choices I didn’t make. All the things I lost and spent and wasted. I can give them back to the world. To the lives that haven’t been lived yet. That will be my gift back to the world that gave me the life I did live, the love I loved, the breath I breathed.
If I knew for certain that I should die next week, I would still be able to sit at my desk all week and study with perfect equanimity, for I know now that life and death make a meaningful whole.
I know I shall not live very long. But why is that so sad? Is a festival more beautiful because it lasts longer? My sensuous perceptions grow sharper, as if I were supposed to take in everything within the few years that will be offered to me. . . . And now love will still blossom for me before I depart, and if I’ve painted three good pictures, then I shall leave gladly with flowers in my hand and my hair.
i hope i die / warmed / by the life that i tried / to live
To me the honor is sufficient of belonging to the universe — such a great universe, so grand a scheme of things. Not even Death can rob me of that honor. For nothing can alter the fact that I have lived; I have been I, if for ever so short a time.
Live your life, do your work, then take your hat.