philosophy

A meditation on Death

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Every town dweller maintains an oasis. A patch of grass, green plants; a garden. This is an unconscious ritual of hope. There is a desert a few hundred kilometres away to the East. The sea is 5 kilometres away to the west. Brutal summer heat sucks everything dry and twice a week, we fight back with water. It is an endless cycle. It is an apt metaphor for the short lives we live on a fast moving rock that turns on itself whilst circling a star that is dying a slow and glorious death.

We love and, if we are lucky, are loved back. A welcome parenthesis in the absurd text of our lives, If we are fortunate, is the gift of children. If they remain happy and healthy then we are doubly blessed. At some point the people we love begin to die and the grief caused by their leaving either draws us closer to the faith of our choice or illuminates the absurdity of the condition of being alive. Perhaps both? I live in a constant state of mourning. Acutely aware of the imminent demise of everyone, I feel in all moments the loss of those with whom I am walking on the beach, for whom I make a cup of tea, with whom I look up at the sky and draw from the stacks of cumulus some shape or face or meaning. I live with the pain of loss even when nothing is lost. I anticipate pain the way swallows anticipate rain. There is a joy and a heavy grief in seeing the quick dives and low sweeps of these delicate birds. Some are drawn to the sea whose constant rows of falling froth laugh at the littleness of our human fear of endings. I am all endings says the sea. I end all of the time and look at me, see how large I am and with what force I end. Then our own ending seems alright and even normal, usual.

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Against the violent current of nihilism I water the grass, the plants or dig a hole and place into it something alive in the hope that it will grow after I am dead. Hope is difficult. Putting a foot onto the floor and then the other is sometimes the most positivity I can bring to a day. Yet, I do not consider myself a negative person. Beyond the front door I am all smiles and mischief. The ones I love bare the brunt of my contradictory nature. My home is the birthplace of my being and I am not yet fully formed. It is here that I may express my disgust at the absurdity of human existence. Here that I hate people and love my dogs; despise the world and love my wife and children. I will love and hate with passion. I empty the glass of my being so that I am able to go out into my classroom and teach empathy and compassion. I can do this because I need it most and because I hate my self at times and people and the condition of life does not mean that I hate my self or life or the condition of being alive.

I am establishing limits. I will no longer entertain the simple minded. Those who elevate dogma of any brand above simple humanity. I cannot entertain such nihilistic stupidity. My brand of nihilism is entirely different. I marvel at the infinite dance of atoms whose rhythm gave rise to me. I am in awe of night skies and ants and feel the cosmos reshuffle itself in the dying twitches of a bee on a windowsill. I am grateful, to the deepest recess of consciousness, for my life and the ones in it that I love. I am also mindful of the incessant grief that marks the boundary of my existence. I will not accept this without some act of rage. Doesn’t my rage against the absurdity of life confirm my deep attachment to it? I find living to be a precious and beautiful event. I am just pissed off at a very deep level that it must end. If one’s finger bleeds at finding a thorn on the stem of a rose, one does not assume the rose hates you. The pain is an anomaly I am still attempting to understand.

I was entranced by a bullfight I watched in Madrid one Sunday afternoon at Easter. It was a manifestation of my conflicted being; the personality of soul on display. Ten minutes is all it takes to represent life. Our wilful pride swells as we swagger boldly and well dressed into the world silently crying out “look at me, look at me! Am I not the finest thing that ever lived? Am I not splendid? There in the prime of our lovely and beautiful naiveté we say to ourselves ‘but this is easy. Why did our parents and their old friends warn us about life? It is not hard at all. It is marvellously simple and I am so grand.’ Then from nowhere a bull is unleashed and it is not just there it is heaving and powerful and wants to dig its horns into you. My God, something wants me dead! How can that be? I am too pretty and young and wonderful to die? Then there is the battle and this beast that is as beautiful as you must die, or you will die. Life becomes in a moment not the style of your walk or the angle of your smile at admirers; it is simply that if you do not choose an action you will die. Something always dies at the end of it. At least once it will be you. Until then we must learn to not be so arrogant, to understand that everyone is beautiful and that everyone has their bull.

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By Mike Scallan

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creative non fiction, philosophy

Suburban Blues

 

Suburbia is the purgatory of modern development. It is neither nature nor city but straddles the space between. Here, people are frenzied shoppers   but are also desperate to escape the compulsion to consume. Once people lived in harmony with nature. Seasons guided our notion of time, objects were made and ownership was a foreign concept. It’s a life I romantically imagine I live when I trek through or camp in isolated places where there are more trees than people. Now we own stuff or pursue stuff and are surrounded by busy people constructing, selling, buying or breaking. There are trees in suburbia but it is very peopled, busy and seems to lack something, or so I thought.

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My life is surrounded by objects which constantly threaten to own me. Maybe they do? They hold memories of my life in the way the landscape holds the lives of people living on it. I do not live on ‘the’ land. I live on a square of mortgaged real estate. I have made my peace with that. I respect it by caring for it. I bring beauty into it. I plant flowers, fruit trees and bottle my own olives. Inside my many walled dwelling I place objects that I have purchased. This is my ritual. I may not feel a cool breeze around an evening fire or wake up damp to birdsong, but if you look carefully it’s a rich place. Suburbia suggests the universal trend towards bland sameness, a middle class lego land. It’s more than that. It’s the space on this earth  where I live my life, find meaning and  constantly re-imagine existence.

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Here is a part of a shadow cast by one of the objects of my life. But this steel chair doesn’t cast shadows here anymore, or anywhere else now because I threw it out. I rebelled against the voice of my father which has always gently cautioned me to never ‘throw away’. I shut my ears, my heart and shouldered my way through the memories imbedded in the rusty seat. Where the rust had swollen the joins I bent the chair in half and tossed it away. There were waves of guilt as I surrendered to the consumer mind – “I will buy another, a newer and better chair”. Then I did. It was easy. It was difficult. Nostalgia bit at me as yet another object that had migrated 6000km with me gave in and got chucked like it was just a thing-which it is, was.

The white wrought iron chair was a part of a set of three objects: A table and two chairs. Meals were had around it where we encountered some of the best words we had to offer each other. The salted coastal air eroded the table first, then the chairs. They went from holding us to the rubbish dump too quickly.

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I must avoid being too bleak. Hope must be maintained. A life endured, even enjoyed, has a duty to look beyond current erosion. We must point our children to new experiences, to look beyond the rubble that gathers around a life. We all crumble,to varying degrees. Consumerism has its place, but objects carry history. We simply carry on.

Now we have two new chairs beside a table made of steel to endure the coastal air. I’m still not sure of the difference between steel and iron, I did once but I forget and maybe it’s not important. One kind lasts longer but neither lasts long enough. I wonder if whoever throws these out will at least pause before discarding them?

Meanwhile, new experiences open like blooms and a fresh beginning unfolds in suburbia. Ultimately, what will remain here? The trees I planted, some plants I grew from seedlings, a few paving blocks perhaps?  Maybe not? Suburbia is a battlefield between relentless, brutal  progress on the one hand and the lives of people held in fragile ceramic pots and weathered patio sets on the other. Thankfully the beauty of nature is there as well, if you look for it. Like us, it’s just somewhat contained.

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By Mike Scallan

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