Autumn is the dying time. The trees shed their leaves, the creeks go dry, the earth goes cold. Animals crawl into holes to hide and sleep. There are few birds and they don’t sing, just shiver and pick at whatever carcass they can find. Dawn comes later and dusk, sooner. The veil between the living and the dead, no more than a veil at any time, is thinnest now, with ragged holes to peek or creep through. This is the time of shutting down, closing up, preparing for the cold to come. It is right and good that we think of death now, display death’s symbols and paint our faces as corpses.
We know, of course, that spring will come, as it always does. The animals and birds will return, the flowers will bloom and the riverbeds will swell with rains and melting snow. The world doesn’t die, only seems to, for a time and then returns to joyous, abundant life. ‘Round and ‘round roll the seasons as Terra Mater turns and turns forever and ever, unto the world’s end, amen. And why shouldn’t we celebrate the time of death? Are we not the same as the earth from whence we came? Do we imagine that our own deaths will somehow be different?
Everything natural is round. Day rolls into night into day as the seasons roll, the planet rolls, the Milky Way rolls, around and around. All of time and all of space are ever-turning circles, cycles, ceaseless rotations. Wheels within wheels.
My daughter, the Spotted Opossum, is four-and-a-half. I am forty-four-and-a-half. She finds it amusing that our ages end the same. And so they always will. She is at the beginning of her life this time; I’m in the middle of mine. She understands that death is only sad for the living, who are deprived of their loved one. The dead go to be with God, perhaps returning in another form or the same form, she doesn’t really know because I don’t really know and I tell her so. I’ve told her that death is nothing to fear and she wants to believe that. In time, she will. She’s had very little experience with life, doesn’t understand even the basic concepts of time or space. There’s no way someone so young can grasp that death is life’s other side.
It wasn’t easy for me to learn it. I once feared death. I once feared life. Fear drove me to dark places, to alcohol, drugs, suicidal ideation, insanity. I’ve courted death, jerked off to death, slipped into unconsciousness certain that I’d not wake up. I have killed and caused to be killed. I have held bloody human flesh. I have lost control of cars, dragged myself out of freezing water, been on the wrong end of swinging blades, tasted gun barrels, overdosed. I’ve seen the dead, heard the dead, walked with the dead. A man I knew died a few days ago, sixty-six-years old. He was in Vietnam, deep in the shit, with confirmed kills still fresh in his mind. We called him “Pastor” because he was one. Another man died a few days ago, Lou Reed, seventy-one. I never met him, of course, but his music blew my mind twenty-five years ago and still does today. The Velvets, I mean, and obviously Metal Machine Music. Both of them were recovering alcoholic/addicts, as am I, and it’s surprising, really, that they managed to hold on as long as they did. Maybe I’m closer to the end than the middle. We’ll see. I’m not planning on dying anytime soon. I’ve got a lot of shit to attend to before I shuffle off this mortal coil, a lot of work to get done. I might not have the final say on that matter, but I’d put up a goddamn fight, that’s for sure. I expect to be around for a bit longer, long enough to get tired and start to look forward to death as one looks forward to sleep at the end of a long, hard day. That’s how my paternal grandmother went. She was ready. She told me.
One my mother’s side, it’s not at all unusual for the old and failing to report being visited in the night by dead relatives who tell them not to be afraid. When somebody mentions that Uncle Arlen or Aunt Bon was in their room the night before, everybody knows they’ll be dead soon. I wouldn’t mind that.
I’ve been talking about physical death. There are other kinds. We’ve all experienced transitions in our lives, experiences that changed us in deep, profound ways which we were unable to comprehend until later, if ever. That’s a type of death. I experienced it when I got sober and again when the nurse put my newborn daughter in my hands. In both cases, the person who I had been ceased to be and a new person came into existence. In both cases, I had to figure out how to let go of the person I had been to be the person I had become. When I got clean, I was pretty close to physical death, in no good shape mentally and utterly ignorant of spiritual matters. When the girl came out, I was ten years straight and ten years into the study of myth and religion. I perceived that I had crossed a threshold of sorts, that I had entered into a new form of existence. That’s what religions mean when they talk about death and resurrection. People who are physically dead do not physically get up and call on their old friends before floating up into the sky. Metaphorical deaths happen all the time, many times to each of us.
Then again, there is the matter of identification. Who am I? Am I the body that houses the spirit for a brief time or am I the spirit that uses the body and casts it off when it is no longer useful? Am I the ego which clings to status, security and fondly held notions or am I an eternal, ever-changing monad which is playing at being temporal? Am I a blip that exists for a moment in an inconceivably vast and ongoing universe or am I an inconceivably vast and ongoing universe which is seeing itself through the eyes of a blip for a moment? I know my answers to those questions and knowing them, I really don’t think about it much. I don’t have to think about it. Thinking about would only distract me from the game that I’m playing, the game of being alive in the realm of middle dimensions. It’s a good game and I’m trying to play my hand well, according to my understanding.
Death isn’t the end of the game, not really. Well, it can be, I guess, if you choose to go to Amitabha’s Pure Land or something. I expect I’ll come back. I’ve got a list of things to do that I don’t think I can get through in one lifetime. Whether I make it to ninety-one, like Grandma, or go out in a fiery explosion tomorrow, I’ll have to come back to finish what I’ve started, which is the total transformation of human consciousness. No shit. The myths and religions of the world are all about living life and transcending death and I’m pretty sure that if people understood that they’d stop being such insufferable assholes all the time. The only way this world is going to become the place I want to live is for it to be radically changed, so I’m going to change it or die trying and come back to try again.
Also, skulls are cool. Halloween is fun. Old horror movies are great. We’ve been watching Hammer horror movies lately. Gary Oldman was really a better Dracula than Christopher Lee, but whatever. The classics are classic.
In case you were wondering, yes, the title is a reference to Sonny Curtis’ “Love Is All Around”, the theme song to The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Terrible song, great show. Sing it with “death” instead of “love” and it’s just as true.
You’re gonna make it after all.
Brown Hat the Espresso Shaman
The pun is always intended.