I have been playing with my death recently. Actually, it has been playing with me. Now I am in my fifties, and it’s a step less romantic, more chilly. Anyway: it’s coming.
One of my responses to dying is fear. I would like some security against it. Or a lively distraction. Unfortunately, I can’t think of what I would like to horde until then. And I can’t think of what I can collect that might give retrospective satisfaction: “THIS is what I spent my life doing”.
When I give up on the fear, and give up on collecting, another impulse arises and in a language new and awkward to me; to spend the present moment of the rest of my life, giving love and care to myself and whomever I am with 1 . That impulse feels right. It feels like the right intention for every moment, and the best resolution to look back on.
Until this point, my thought walk a straight road, but then two voices appear;
One voice is delighted,
“Finally, Desmond! Love and care! I can’t wait!” This voice sings Hallelujah like a gospel choir. In character it’s like a Labrador seeing the coat going on, about to go on a walk.
The other voice is very slick.
It says, “Well! Desmond! Love and care, eh? That’s hardly been your specialty, has it?” It’s a more bitchy, feline voice.
The first voice, while it brings great joy, is also uncomfortable 2. It is not ‘me’. Or at least not my familiar me. I can keep the voice alive, like bouncing a balloon on my hand but without attention it falls into the other voice.
The other voice I dislike. But I find it very comfortable 3. When this voice has taken over, I feel regret after a guest has left, “Why did I spend so long arguing a point that doesn’t matter?“
The metaphor of the balloon isn’t satisfying, implying constant effort to keep an unstable mood afloat. There is also a pun about gravity: love and care aren’t grave enough. Couldn’t love and care be a plant, growing under good conditions? Like Blake’s sunflower, “Who countest the steps of the Sun” 4.
As long death as is an appeal to love, it isn’t an appeal to fear.
- “However long a life may be, it is but a moment and a dream”. ‘I Am That: Dialogues of Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj’ p.33
- Love’s approach is not always granted the full body’s consent. Dante records in ‘La Vita Nuova’ (‘The New Life’, 1294), that while his heart was awed, and his mind delighted, his stomach mourned the vision of love;
“At that time, truly, I say, the vital spirit, which dwells in the innermost chamber of the heart, started to tremble so powerfully that its disturbance reached all the way to the slightest of my pulses. And trembling it spoke these words: “Here is a god stronger than I, who comes to rule me”. At that time the animal spirit, which dwells in the high chamber to which all the spirits of sensation carry their perceptions, began to marvel, and speaking especially to the spirits of vision it said: “Your bliss has now appeared”. At that time the natural spirit, which dwells where our food is digested, started to cry, and crying it spoke these words: “What misery, since from now on I will often be blocked [in my digestion]!” https://digitaldante.columbia.edu/text/library/la-vita-nuova-frisardi/#note_1_1
- For resistance to love as ‘unlove’, see https://desmond-fox.com/2019/12/18/love-and-unlove/
- Ah Sun-flower! weary of time,
Who countest the steps of the Sun:
Seeking after that sweet golden clime
Where the travellers journey is done.
Where the Youth pined away with desire,
And the pale Virgin shrouded in snow:
Arise from their graves and aspire,
Where my Sun-flower wishes to go.
William Blake, 1794