Yesterday the news broke about possibly my favourite TV star: Jessica Walters passed in her sleep.
I’m sat here now, reflecting, smiling not crying and listening to “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” by The Rolling Stones with a root beer. She had a good life, she was the best at what she did and in a way, I’m comforted as she is reunited with her husband, Ron Lieberman. I’m not apathetic. My heart is still human and it feels a little heavy but the world, and my world, was all the better for having her; all the better for her comedy and talent, as is the next place. Maybe it’s my distance that lets me so stoic. Yet when my own great grandmother died, her funeral was not a sad time but a bittersweet one. We all wore bright colours as she asked and we reminisced and ate sandwiches, chatting about good times, a packed church of people smiling in memory of a beautiful soul and the light she brought. I was sad, I was sad because my grandmother was in tears and I couldn’t do anything to comfort her. I was drunk when I was first told the news some weeks before – when was I not at the time? Smashed out of my mind on a pitcher of Bloody Mary pre-drinking for a night out that never happened, I was wailing into the arms of my best friend. Funny, in that moment when I was lowest, I realized that I was in love with the one that held me. Even in death, Nana was teaching me things, giving me gifts of affection and showing me that I wasn’t alone.
“What is death? Someone looking at death per se, and applying the analytical power of his mind to divest death of its associated images, will conclude then that it is nothing more than a function of nature – and if anyone is frightened of a nature, he is a mere child. And death is not only a function of nature, but also her benefit.” – Meditations 2.13
To use an analogy that Marcus would like: when a fruit is ripe it is picked. But what if a life is taken before it’s time? An untimely death where infinite potential is never fulfilled? What then? Is there comfort in knowing that the soul is an eternal being or that the death served a purpose to forge the greatness of another? A medical student attending the scene, a mother, a daughter? Or is it much more gentle?
The universe, the Tao, God, that exists as a great intelligent ocean or permeating mist: do our eternal souls drift through? Like dust drifting through the water settling on the sandy bed with trillions of other grains, all once great rocky structures.
“Many grains of incense on the same altar. One falls to ash first, another later: no difference.” – Meditations 4.15
I’m writing in reference only to my reading of Marcus Aurelius on death. The Emperor of a brutal bloodthirsty empire that carved its way through Europe and Asia taking lives. In his 58 years he would have seen more lives being taken than I will in my estimated 80 – unless of course, 2073 is as exciting as I’ve been told it will be. Even then, in the face of the mindless scattering of souls to solar winds, what is death but specks cast into a galactic maelstrom? Life is a mandala: a beautiful formation of differently coloured grains of sand coming together to make something moving and impactful only to be brushed away with the tide. As grains, we will never see what it means, or what it looks like, or who observes us in our way, only the coming of the tide and the scattering is certain.
Do we scorn the change of tide? Do we fret about the summer changing to autumn then again to winter? Do we fear blinking or sleeping?
“Loss is nothing more than change. Universal nature delights in change, and all that flows from nature happens for the good. Similar things have happened from time everlasting, and there will be more such to eternity. So why do you say that everything has always happened for the bad and always will, that all those gods between them have evidently never found any power to right this, so the world is condemned to the grip of perpetual misery?” – Meditations 9.35
They live on, the people we knew, souls eternal. The parts that they consisted of them, live on: returning to the world that they are born from. It will be the way for the living too. What is lost is never truly lost, as nothing is ever truly ours: calcium, carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, etcetera. With each inhale we take in the ones long gone and with each exhale with give them back with thanks for our lives that we live now. We are tribal creatures, us human beings. We mourn the loss of our tribe, it’s only natural but loss is also natural. All things are natural and we can take it. We can carry it and carry on because that’s what we do as the summer turns to autumn that turns to winter, as the tide comes in and comes out. The universe exhales and inhales.
There is no end, the is no beginning – “There is no death, there is the Force”.
“Consider any existing object and reflect that it is even now in the process of dissolution and change, in a sense regenerating through decay or dispersal: in other words, to what sort of ‘death’ each thing is born.” – Meditations 10.18
This post is dedicated to those who have passed, those I knew who have passed, not that they will read it, and you – who is.