Life and Death, Amplified

The flower pot toppled over and hit the floor with a crash. As I began to sweep up the pieces, my heart contracted in my chest. I had had that blue and white pot since I was fourteen. It was one of the things I had bought as a defiant teenager to remind myself that one day I would have a home of my own and would be free to sculpt my own life. Now my son is fourteen, I have had more homes than I care to count, and I’m only starting to understand true liberty. And the flower pot, bought from a market vendor in the smoggy heat of Bangkok, was gone. I was so sorry to see it there as a pile of earth and crockery. It brought to mind my own inevitable death.  

The more I love life, the more I fear death.  This raises many questions, and the ego is not pleased. Isn’t it supposed to go the other way around? With a fuller appreciation of the nectar of life, are we not supposed to become aware that Life encompasses infinity, and hence death too?

Looking back, I have spent most of my adult life in a mild torpor, which I mistook for peace of mind. Rifling through magazines with their articles on how to live healthily as long as possible, I would think, why prolong? To each his allotted time and so on. Was “the zen” actually indifference, a lack of understanding? So where is peace of mind now? And more to the point, if I keep loving life ever more, does fear of death grow apace? It’s bewildering and frightening.

It’s also a lot of fun. Plans and dreams are not postponed but pushed into production with a sense of urgency, almost greed. Impatience rules the day. Moments are seized, food tastes fantastic, all weather is fine, everyone is worth loving. Emotions are more spontaneous: sometimes there is a fit of rage on a plane, yeah, but at others true beauty overwhelms one, like in Matera, Italy just now.

The fragility of life is highlighted. I watched Sean Penn’s masterpiece, Into the Wild, and could hardly bear it because the central character resembles my son. I have begun to fear for my children. I feel the urge to put aside all my values and sense and say, “Don't go. Stay here, safe, forever.” I look at my parents, daily more marked with impending infinity, and think “Don’t die. Stay here. Eat your vitamins.”

The horror and suffering of children everywhere wrenches the heart even more than before. Perhaps this is at the core of why we give to charities: a complicated mix of empathy, love of life, fear of mortality and ego. I find that there is only one prayer that rises constantly to my lips these days:  "Dear God, protect us all, amen".

This new vividity is linked to the writing, and vice versa. I began to write more because of that heightened sense of being alive, wanting to live even more fully. And when I write, new wells break out of my subconscious, enhancing Life in me. Writing has turned from a way of structuring thoughts and feelings about the world, into something that amplifies them and takes me forward. It seems to have a life of its own. You know those rare dreams, where everything seems very real, so real that upon waking you think perhaps the dream was your true life? Living with writing, at the best of times, is having that sensation when you are awake.

No doubt all this is growth, and all will change again. I suspect the fear of death will subside, and indeed be submerged slowly in a greater peace. All those sages can’t be wrong.

The night the pot broke, I was about to drift off to sleep. The words came clearly, bringing calm and solace: life is Heaven itself.