Friday, September 16, 2011

The Living, the Dead, the Undead

I found something I wrote about a year ago, shortly after the death of Esther Earl. I can't really explain why, but her death really hit me hard. In those weeks afterward, I was thinking about a lot of deep, heavy stuff: time, death, wisdom, despair... Anyway, this post is a bit emo (like most of this blog), but it ends on a decent note.

In my computer, the file was simply called "Esther."


I think the reason vampires aren’t scary to me is because despite all this nonsense about them being “undead,” they’re alive.

I don’t measure life by a pulse. I measure life in terms of… what, exactly? It’s hard to word it right. “Consciousness” was what I was going to say, but that’s not right. Life is being aware, awake. Having an identity. If our bodies are computers, being alive isn’t a matter of the power feed keeping the computer’s shell running. It’s the inner actions of the computer, the memory and data connections that keep the information processing. It’s the stuff on the hard drive. Even if the computer’s turned off, that stuff is still there, still inherently its own. It has an identity, a purpose, a unique quality of being itself.

That’s why, to me, zombies are scary. Not because they’re going to kill us all and rip off our flesh, etc. etc. But because they’re alive physically (or “undead” if you want to quibble), but they’re gone. Wiped clean. Whatever made them unique and special and inherently themselves is no longer there. They’re dead. They walk around like the living, but they’re gone.

That’s what I’m afraid of. That’s my biggest fear. Being gone. Not just me, though. That everyone I love and everything I’ve held dear, that everything from the smallest moments to the hugest lump sum of all our human experiences, won’t live on. That it’ll be lost. Time is the hugest enemy in this regard, because it erodes and erases and after a while it’s as if things that were once monumental and vast in their significance are mere grains of sand. Ozymandius, yeah, yeah, but more than that…

Death is a villain too. Death and Time, co-conspirators. One takes us away and the other slowly wipes our whole existence off the planet.

How, then, can there be any meaning? Why is anything that happens to me worth anything? Why do people matter so much to me, even people I’ve barely met? Why is the death of a girl from Quincy, Massachusetts who I’ve spoken to only a few times so hard to bear? Why is the loss so great?

Why do people tell stories? Those don’t matter either. As I wrote once in a poem about music, “I think we play to stave off the silence in our souls.” If, as Solomon so famously declared, “everything is vanity,” meaningless, meaningless, everything is meaningless, without purpose, without hope or value, then what else are we to do but distract and delude ourselves until Death and Time come and steal us away and render everything we once had or did or stood for as nothing but blank, empty, unimportant, void?

We’re very stupid animals, though, human beings. They tell us we can’t. The very Universe has set itself and its laws up so that there is ultimately and without doubt no chance whatsoever.

But we try anyway.

To hope.
To remember.
To stand for something.

To be truly wise is to live in a state of perpetual despair, because true wisdom is forced to acknowledge that everything is temporary and all things fail.

I’m going to be a fool. I’m going to walk into a hurricane with nothing but an umbrella and the sincere belief that I will make it to the other side.

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