Sunday, October 15, 2017

`And Now It Is Nowhere'

Without quite knowing it, a friend has resolved to drink himself to death. Such decisions are never made lightly, but they can be made unknowingly. Our minds contain compartments lined with semi-permeable membrane and equipped with a switch. Flip it and the membrane turns rigid like bone. In my friend’s case, cause and effect have become detached, and between them is a wall of unknowing. In his posthumously published “A Letter to a Friend,” Sir Thomas Browne writes:

 “Not to be content with Life is the unsatisfactory state of those which destroy themselves; who being afraid to live, run blindly upon their own Death, which no Man fears by Experience: and the Stoicks had a notable Doctrine to take away the fear thereof; that is, In such Extremities to desire that which is not to be avoided, and wish what might be feared; and so made Evils voluntary, and to suit with their own Desires, which took off the terror of them.”

The post hoc fallacy is tempting. It makes life easier by not looking at it too closely. Life loses meaning and death is always happy to fill the vacuum. Death is the great seducer. Some would say the great and charming deceiver. Stevie Smith was ambivalent in the matter. In “Why do I . . .” (All the Poems of Stevie Smith, 2015) she writes:

“Why do I think of Death as a friend?
It is because he is a scatterer
He scatters the human frame
The nerviness and the great pain
Throws it on the fresh fresh air
And now it is nowhere
Only Sweet Death does this
Sweet Death, Kind Death,
Of all the gods you are best.”

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