There was once a tiger-striped cat. This cat died a million deaths, and lived a million lives, and in those lives, various people owned him. None of those people he cared for. This cat was not afraid of death. One life, the cat became a stray cat, which meant it was free. And it met a white female cat. They became mates, and lived together. Time passed, the white cat passed away of old age. And the tiger- striped cat cried a million times. Eventually, the cat died again. But this time, it didn’t come back to life.
Everyone was eating, talking softly, glancing at me, hugging me, eating. It was as if someone had turned the volume down. Everything looked normal, but the sound was muted. Death did this, set all this weirdness in motion, made people appear out of nowhere carrying casseroles, saying ‘I’m sorry’ over and over, death muffled their voices.
If you wear black, then kindly, irritating strangers will touch your arm consolingly and inform you that the world keeps on turning.
They’re right. It does.
However much you beg it to stop.
It turns and lets grenadine spill over the horizon, sends hard bars of gold through my window and I wake up and feel happy for three seconds and then I remember.
It turns and tips people out of their beds and into their cars, their offices, an avalanche of tiny men and women tumbling through life…
All trying not to think about what’s waiting at the bottom.
Sometimes it turns and sends us reeling into each other’s arms. We cling tight, excited and laughing, strangers thrown together on a moving funhouse floor.
Intoxicated by the motion we forget all the risks.
And then the world turns…
And somebody falls off…
And oh God it’s such a long way down.
Numb with shock, we can only stand and watch as they fall away from us, gradually getting smaller…
Receding in our memories until they’re no longer visible.
We gather in cemeteries, tense and silent as if for listening for the impact; the splash of a pebble dropped into a dark well, trying to measure its depth.
Trying to measure how far we have to fall.
No impact comes; no splash. The moment passes. The world turns and we turn away, getting on with our lives…
Wrapping ourselves in comforting banalities to keep us warm against the cold.
Time’s a great healer.
At least it was quick.
The world keeps turning.
Casting aside other things, hold to the precious few; and besides bear in mind that every man lives only the present, which is an indivisible point, and that all the rest of his life is either past or is uncertain. Brief is man’s life and small the nook of the earth where he lives; brief, too, is the longest posthumous fame, buoyed only by a succession of poor human beings who will very soon die and who know little of themselves, much less of someone who died long ago.
Your cold mornings are filled with the heartache about the fact that although we are not at ease in this world, it is all we have, that it is ours but that it is full of strife, so that all we can call our own is strife; but even that is better than nothing at all, isn’t it? And as you split the frost-laced wood with numb hands, rejoice that your uncertainty is God’s will and His grace toward you that that is beautiful, and a part of a greater certainty, as your own father always said in his sermons and to you at home. And as the ax bites into the wood, be comforted in the fact that the ache in your heart and the confusion in your soul means that you are still alive, still human, and still open to the beauty of the world, even though you have done nothing to deserve it. And when you resent the ache in your heart, remember: You will be dead and buried soon enough.
Say anything you want against The Seventh Seal. My fear of death — this infantile fixation of mine — was, at that moment, overwhelming. I felt myself in contact with death day and night, and my fear was tremendous. When I finished the picture, my fear went away. I have the feeling simply of having painted a canvas in an enormous hurry — with enormous pretension but without any arrogance. I said, ‘Here is a painting; take it, please.
The night before brain surgery, I thought about death. I searched out my larger values, and I asked myself, if I was going to die, did I want to do it fighting and clawing or in peaceful surrender? What sort of character did I hope to show? Was I content with myself and what I had done with my life so far? I decided that I was essentially a good person, although I could have been better–but at the same time I understood that the cancer didn’t care.I asked myself what I believed. I had never prayed a lot. I hoped hard, I wished hard, but I didn’t pray. I had developed a certain distrust of organized religion growing up, but I felt I had the capacity to be a spiritual person, and to hold some fervent beliefs. Quite simply, I believed I had a responsibility to be a good person, and that meant fair, honest, hardworking, and honorable. If I did that, if I was good to my family, true to my friends, if I gave back to my community or to some cause, if I wasn’t a liar, a cheat, or a thief, then I believed that should be enough. At the end of the day, if there was indeed some Body or presence standing there to judge me, I hoped I would be judged on whether I had lived a true life, not on whether I believed in a certain book, or whether I’d been baptized. If there was indeed a God at the end of my days, I hoped he didn’t say, ‘But you were never a Christian, so you’re going the other way from heaven.’ If so, I was going to reply, ‘You know what? You’re right. Fine.’I believed, too, in the doctors and the medicine and the surgeries–I believed in that. I believed in them. A person like Dr. Einhorn [his oncologist], that’s someone to believe in, I thought, a person with the mind to develop an experimental treatment 20 years ago that now could save my life. I believed in the hard currency of his intelligence and his research.Beyond that, I had no idea where to draw the line between spiritual belief and science. But I knew this much: I believed in belief, for its own shining sake. To believe in the face of utter hopelessness, every article of evidence to the contrary, to ignore apparent catastrophe–what other choice was there? We do it every day, I realized. We are so much stronger than we imagine, and belief is one of the most valiant and long-lived human characteristics. To believe, when all along we humans know that nothing can cure the briefness of this life, that there is no remedy for our basic mortality, that is a form of bravery.To continue believing in yourself, believing in the doctors, believing in the treatment, believing in whatever I chose to believe in, that was the most important thing, I decided. It had to be.Without belief, we would be left with nothing but an overwhelming doom, every single day. And it will beat you. I didn’t fully see, until the cancer, how we fight every day against the creeping negatives of the world, how we struggle daily against the slow lapping of cynicism. Dispiritedness and disappointment, these were the real perils of life, not some sudden illness or cataclysmic millennium doomsday. I knew now why people fear cancer: because it is a slow and inevitable death, it is the very definition of cynicism and loss of spirit.So, I believed.
The rest of my days I’m going to spend on the sea. And when I die, I’m going to die on the sea. You know what I shall die of? I shall die of eating an unwashed grape. One day out on the ocean I will die–with my hand in the hand of some nice looking ship’s doctor, a very young one with a small blond moustache and a big silver watch. “Poor lady,” they’ll say, “The quinine did her no good. That unwashed grape has transported her soul to heaven.