Musing About Life and Death

By William Markiewicz

"In the beginning was the Word" -- you don't have to be God to create a world out of a word. The word has its magic. The notion creates its own reality, perhaps only in our minds, but it is strong enough that we may shape our whole existence around it.

The word "death" is as powerful as "life", perhaps even more powerful because we take life for granted while death terrifies us. The dead ones by their very immobility, by their blankness, absence and presence simultaneously, bewitch, allowing all kind of interpretations. Sphinx, cats, reptiles, the kingdom of masks provoke the same hypnotic effect. Cats and reptiles are living beings of course but their aspect of latent cool menace acts in a "ghostly" way on our imagination. Still, we amble among myriad dead objects without even thinking of death. All the buildings we live in, the furniture, utensils, tools, are dead and we have no feeling at all of being in mausolea. We pass delicatessen and butcher shop windows, we go to restaurants more filled up with death than cemeteries. We abandon feelings, anguishing questions, and just accept reality as it faces us, sitting on the dead chair, reading a book or operating a computer, both dead, eating with a dead fork the (most often) dead food from a dead plate, on a dead table, and so it goes on and on. Psychologically and philosophically but not biologically, we can define death as perpetual absence of self-perception. Then there must be degrees in life and death. The living snake for example is "less" alive than the human because its self-perception is lesser. The plant is an amalgamation of living cells. In death the past doesn't influence the present; a fur coat is as dead as the hanger it hangs on, the dead person is as dead as his photo. With living beings we can share love, hatred or indifference -- sister of death. As for the dead, we can "revive" them with our grief and memories, or react to death as the French writer who, while grieving for his father, said: "this carrion in the grave is not my father." With his philosophical attitude we can distance ourselves from the impact and magic of "death." People can live and die and it's real because these are acts, but the word "death" is an abstraction because it means 'an act of absence', an oxymoron. 


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