“What exists, exists in order that it may be misplaced and grow to be treasured,” Lisel Mueller wrote as she weighed what provides that means to our mortal lives in a beautiful poem — one of many a whole lot that outlived her as she returned her borrowed stardust to the universe at ninety-six. And but, by some felicitous deviation from logic — maybe an adaptive imbecility important for our psychological and emotional survival, one of many touching incongruences that make us human — the second one thing turns into treasured to us, we quarantine the prospect of its loss in some chamber of the thoughts we select to not enter. On some deep stage past the attain of motive, we come to consider that the folks we love are — have to be, for the choice is a fathomless terror — immortal.
And so, when a beloved one dies, this deepest a part of us grows wild with rage on the universe — a rage skinned of sensemaking, irrational and uncooked, unsalved by our data that the entropic future of every little thing alive is to die and of every little thing that exists to finally not, even the universe itself; unsalved by the the immense cosmic poetry hidden on this reality; unsalved by the luckiness of getting lived in any respect in opposition to the staggering cosmic odds in any other case; unsalved by remembering that solely as a result of historical archaebacteria have been able to dying, as was each organism that developed of their wake, we and the folks we love and the folks we lose got here to exist in any respect.
The French novelist, playwright, essayist, and filmmaker Marguerite Duras (April 4, 1914–March 3, 1996) captures this bewildering rage within the last pages of The Lover (public library) — her autobiographical novel a few author creating herself as a girl and an artist within the act of writing, printed the 12 months I used to be born, some 3.7 billion years after the primary archaebacterium started mutating and died.
When the novel’s protagonist-narrator receives a telegram from Saigon, carrying information that her youthful brother has been killed at twenty-seven, she receives the information as a sort of mistake, a “momentary error” eclipsing the universe, filling her soul with outrage “on the size of God.” She realizes with the stab of hindsight that her brother had at all times appeared immortal to her, purely by advantage of being her beloved brother. Duras writes:
The error, the outrage, crammed the entire universe… Individuals must be instructed of such issues. Must be taught that immortality is mortal, that it could possibly die, it’s occurred earlier than and it occurs nonetheless. It doesn’t ever announce itself as such — it’s duplicity itself. It doesn’t exist intimately, solely in precept. Sure folks might harbor it, on situation they don’t know that’s what they’re doing. Simply as sure different folks might detect its presence in them, on the identical situation, that they don’t know they will.
With this, Duras turns to what fills our fragile mortality with that means — what consecrates it with the kind of transcendence we would expertise as pleasure, or artwork, or love. A century and a half after Mary Shelley contemplated what makes life price dwelling as she envisioned a world savaged by a lethal pandemic, and a century after Walt Whitman contemplated what makes life price dwelling after a paralytic stroke made him confront his personal mortality, Duras arrives at a kindred conclusion:
It’s whereas it’s being lived that life is immortal, whereas it’s nonetheless alive. Immortality isn’t a matter of roughly time, it’s not likely a query of immortality however of one thing else that continues to be unknown. It’s as unfaithful to say it’s with out starting or finish as to say it begins and ends with the lifetime of the spirit, because it partakes each of the spirit and of the pursuit of the void.
This harmonic of life and dying sings from the pages of Duras’s posthumous printed wartime notebooks, in certainly one of which she displays on the Mekong River of her native Vietnam as she traverses aboard a ferry:
Throughout the ferry is the river, it’s brimful, its shifting waters… The river has picked up all it has met with since Tonle Sap and the Cambodian forest. It carries every little thing alongside, straw huts, forests, burned-out fires, lifeless birds, lifeless canines, drowned tigers and buffaloes, drowned males, bait, islands of water hyacinths all caught collectively. Every little thing flows towards the Pacific, no time for something to sink, all is swept alongside by the deep and headlong storm of the interior present, suspended on the floor of the river’s power.
Complement with artist, poet, and thinker Etel Adnan, who lived to ninety-five, on the way to stay and the way to die, Olivia Laing on life, loss, and the knowledge of rivers, and mathematician Michael Body’s uncommonly authentic perspective on how fractals will help us fathom loss and reorient to the ongoingness of life.