Monday, August 15, 2011

No Need to Fear Being Dead

I don't relish the pain of dying, but I don't fear being dead. Because I remember being dead. Well, only that first, exhilarating, upward rush of release - that feels like all the graduations, birthdays, and weddings rolled into a single microsecond burst of joy. After that, I get nothing - as if an impenetrable lead curtain lies between me and further knowledge.

It is enough.

The deaths I remember (and yes, there are several) were mostly violent, only I don't remember the trauma as traumatic, or any pain.

Each death carried important insight about life and the leaving of it.

Once I was burnt to death as I slept. A big bed, hangings, furniture, my body: all went up in a great whoosh of flame, smoke, and all-consuming joy.

What I learned? Wow, death feels good.

Another life ended with beheading by guillotine. Forget the French Revolution. This was the normal round of executions of petty criminals in some smallish town. I was a poor, nondescript woman. Stole a loaf of bread or something.

Not the first in line for the guillotine, I stood on a platform looking over the heads of spectators and the roofs of houses to the deep, deep sky. I breathed in the sense of life, becoming lighter and happier. Then it was my turn. I knelt, feeling the curved wood under my neck and looking into a basket placed to catch the heads. The basket was wet. Each flat, woven reed glistened. I heard a bit of drum roll as the blade was lifted and counted, breathing in life until I was as alive as it was possible to be. I realized I could live longer, but I could not live more. If I didn't die then, I would soon slip back into a physical and emotional roil that blanked out any sense of aliveness. So I would gain more days, but not more life. Better to live fully for a few seconds and welcome the death that followed. I felt so calm, so alive, so happy. On ten, a strange shlick! Then black.

I don't have any memory of that after-death.

What I learned? More time does not bring more life. Living fully is possible, but has nothing to do with resisting the passing of a particular body. In fact, just the opposite. The more a person is caught up in resisting and bemoaning death, the less alive she becomes.

I don't generally share these memories, but hey, with economic meltdown in the U.S.'s immediate future, how else live than by risk?

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