Monday, February 9, 2009

acceptance of the end of life


Acceptance of the end of life when its
container has worn out,
and the awareness it no longer fits
the spirit that’s within it in the drought
that terminates the marvel of the mind
it desiccates with dryness,
subtracting spirit that’s been left behind,
a misanthropic minus
reversing all the pluses that had made
life meaningful and worth
the effort, is the price that must be paid
when we’re returned to earth,
our primal Vorlage, beneath the forest trees
where we evolved, to change
into the beings that attempt to please
a God who’s far more strange
than us, but always seems to get the praise
of those who lay to rest
our bodies that, landlubber castaways,
to earthworms are addressed.

Inspired by a review of “Somewhere Towards the End,” by Diana Athill, reviewed by Erica Jong in the NYT Book Review, February 8, 2009 (“An Adventurous Woman”):

Back in the ’90s, Daphne Merkin, one of our best critics and trend-­watchers, predicted that “if the last decade of the 20th century is to produce any great literature” it will be “around the subject of death.” This has proved true. The literature of death may have begun with Elisabeth K├╝bler-Ross’s classic “On Death and Dying” (1969)or with Judith Viorst’s “Necessary Losses” (1986), a book I buy for anyone who is grieving. Or the subject may linger in the air because of global warming and terrorism. How does an atheist prepare for death? This is a theme Diana Athill explores in “Somewhere Towards the End.” Her grapplings are impressive: “My own belief — that we, on our short-lived planet, are part of a universe simultaneously . . . ordinary . . . and incalculably mysterious . . . — does not feel like believing in nothing and would never make me recruit anyone for slaughter. It feels like a state of infinite possibility, stimulating and enjoyable — not exactly comforting, but acceptable because true.”…Her memoir is captivating because of her fearlessness of death, her sense that death is another adventure in her adventurous life. She reminds us that loving life may well mean accepting death as a part of it. The two are not opposites. They only seem to be. “What dies is not a life’s value, but the worn-out (or damaged) container of the self, together with the self’s awareness of itself: . . . The difference between being and nonbeing is both so abrupt and so vast that it remains shocking even though it happens to every living thing that is, was or ever will be. (What Henry James was thinking when he called death ‘distinguished’ . . . I can’t imagine — though the poor old man was at his last gasp when he said it, so one ought not to carp.)” Athill is good at not carping. This gives her memoir a levity that makes it fun to read. She also offers wisdom many of us can use about facing one’s end.

© 209 Gershon Hepner 2/8/09

No comments:

Post a Comment