A friend of mine today shared with me what felt like a somewhat desperate opinion about death.
He said that, since someone important to him died a while back, he is now the only person who knows certain things about her… there is no one left on the planet to carry forward these pieces of her, these memories of her… and, when he dies, all of these parts of her – parts that he finds to be spectacular and worth keeping alive – will be lost to oblivion… much like the great Augustus Waters feared for his own life.*
I, however, have found that I do not see things so desperately as my friend does.
For one thing, I never fully understood Augustus Waters’ fear of being lost… In everything I do, I affect the whole world around me… Whether people know my name or not, whether the trees talk or not, part of me exists in all of them, simply because our paths have crossed… Whether I like it or not, parts of me are spread throughout the world, and those parts will travel on forever, no matter whether my physical body is still breathing and pumping blood.
In a way, I always will exist in this universe… and I do not feel separate from the rest of what is here within it now, nor do I feel like a spectator – I am part of this universe, and it is part of me…
A single drip onto a pond sends ripples that change the whole… even if the fish doesn’t know it, his path was altered because of a drip on the far side of the pond…
And I already know that most of my ripples are more like waves in this life…
Now, for another thing, if things are as this friend expressed them to be, is that not all the more reason to value the unparalleled opportunity it was for him to have been witness to these parts of her?… these beauties are only in existence for this short and brief time in the world… let them not go to waste by brooding over their eventual loss… instead, embrace and love them while they are here now, and be grateful that he had the opportunity to be the one to know them.
Otherwise, it is almost an insult to the beauty of the memories and to the person of whom they are remembered – she was amazing, so let us be amazed…. and the memory of her only lasts so long, so let us embrace it while it lasts, and be grateful that we were honored with such a unique and limited experience.
Just my thoughts from this morning… I think they are part of why death has always been a sort of mixed bag for me… I simultaneously and terrified of it, and feel oddly connected to it and rather unafraid… when it is time, it is time, because a body is ready to move on to the next stage of things… it’s almost not even personal…, even though it is…
::sigh….. oh, well… that’s all I have to say on that for the moment…
*If you don’t get the reference, Google it, and help yourself onto the young and hip bandwagon. 😉
P.S. Turns out that I had something else to say on this… I remembered just now what a friend of mine shared years ago, after her mother died… it is something that resonated with me then, and still does today (specifically the sections in bold, with a big bam on the underlined part at the end)… it is from 2005 by Aaron Freeman:
You want a physicist to speak at your funeral. You want the physicist to talk to your grieving family about the conservation of energy, so they will understand that your energy has not died. You want the physicist to remind your sobbing mother about the first law of thermodynamics; that no energy gets created in the universe, and none is destroyed. You want your mother to know that all your energy, every vibration, every Btu of heat, every wave of every particle that was her beloved child remains with her in this world. You want the physicist to tell your weeping father that amid energies of the cosmos, you gave as good as you got.
And at one point you’d hope that the physicist would step down from the pulpit and walk to your brokenhearted spouse there in the pew and tell him that all the photons that ever bounced off your face, all the particles whose paths were interrupted by your smile, by the touch of your hair, hundreds of trillions of particles, have raced off like children, their ways forever changed by you. And as your widow rocks in the arms of a loving family, may the physicist let her know that all the photons that bounced from you were gathered in the particle detectors that are her eyes, that those photons created within her constellations of electromagnetically charged neurons whose energy will go on forever.
And the physicist will remind the congregation of how much of all our energy is given off as heat. There may be a few fanning themselves with their programs as he says it. And he will tell them that the warmth that flowed through you in life is still here, still part of all that we are, even as we who mourn continue the heat of our own lives.
And you’ll want the physicist to explain to those who loved you that they need not have faith; indeed, they should not have faith. Let them know that they can measure, that scientists have measured precisely the conservation of energy and found it accurate, verifiable and consistent across space and time. You can hope your family will examine the evidence and satisfy themselves that the science is sound and that they’ll be comforted to know your energy’s still around. According to the law of the conservation of energy, not a bit of you is gone; you’re just less orderly. Amen.
Here’s a link to the piece of NPR for “All Things Considered”, one of my favorite segments on NPR, in which this all was originally said publicly by Aaron Freeman… it is a lovely three-minute listen. 🙂