Wednesday, March 13, 2013

rules of the game

The longer you live, the more death you will encounter. Rules of the game.

At first death seems distant. You know it's out there, you hear about it in vague ways, in the news, from older people, someone else's grandma. Or maybe you encounter death at a very young age, and you carry that burden around for years and years until the rest of us begin to understand. Either way, death makes more regular appearances as life marches on. We, the living, march on, and the dead fall down beside us on both sides.

Until death knocks on your door, it remains a fuzzy concept. Of course death never knocks. Death slips in under your nose while you're chatting on the phone, or in the shower, or walking home from work. It doesn't wait for you to get ready. Sometimes it comes partly announced. Maybe you knew it was in the neighborhood and might be stopping by, but it's still a shock when it steps over the threshold. Often it comes completely out of the blue. Perhaps you witness it quickly move through the room and leave with your beloved. Or perhaps you simply hear that it came and went, and left your world forever changed without touching a hair on your head.

What is it about death that makes us look up toward the sky? That causes that primal wail to well up in our throats as the tears begin to fall? That forces us to clutch at our head in astonishment and disbelief, unable to contain the reality of its doings in our simple fleshy noggin? We don't weep for the dead, of course. We weep for those still living.

Do we become more sensitive to death once we've met it face to face? I've known of death for years. I've wept for lost cousins and grandparents. I've mourned their departure while knowing there were others who were grieving much more deeply than I. And so I mourned for the living and wondered at how they carried on with such a vacuum in their lives. But I didn't dwell on it too much.

Until it touched me directly. It knocked me down, and although I still stand, death has changed me forever, and each subsequent death builds upon the solid foundation of grief and disbelief that now resides within me. Sometimes I feel like I'm walking among ghosts, and that's a comfort, almost as if I can see through this mortal veil and have an inkling of understanding beyond my mundane corporeal self. Other times it's like a tidal wave of emotion that wells up in my tender eyes, constricts my aching throat, weakens my shaky knees, and refuses to accept a reality that cannot be escaped. Death cannot be escaped. It keeps coming, it keeps taking, until there is no one left.

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