Death. And Life!

Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett, 1948-2015, RIP

My mom died a year ago today. Yesterday I attended a memorial service for my best friend’s mom, who died this past February. Also in February, Leonard Nimoy took a final bow and exited stage left. Most recently — just last Thursday — another star went out, and it was one that shone brilliantly in the sky for so many of us.

Sir Terry Pratchett finally got to meet one of his key characters. I like to think that, for him, it might have been like meeting an old friend — and sadly, a visitor he’s been expecting for quite a while now. We fans know that Death personally attends the passing of wizards.

And Terry Pratchett was a wizard beyond compare.

If you don’t know the name, if you’ve never read the books, you’ve missed out on one of the greatest joys the literary world has to offer. Pratchett’s Discworld books are the ones I’d take to that desert isle, the ones I re-read — all of them — every few years or so.

Discworld

A place of great magic!

I’ve written about Discworld before. And specifically about Soul Music, one of my favorites in the series. You should read those posts to learn a bit more about that mythical, magical world. I’m not going to discuss the books today. (I am going to schedule a memorial re-read in the very near future, and that may lead to yet more posts.)

Today is more a brief rumination on death. And life.

I’m at that age where, not only are parents slipping off the sandbar, but even some of my peers have lost their footing and been washed away by the fast-moving river. That life ends is one of the things that unites us all, that comes to us all.

Most of us see it happening around us before it visits us personally. Some of us see it around us all too much. And a few it visits before they really even get started trying to figure out what life is. Those quick exits can be the hardest for those who see them.

Terry Pratchett 1

The Great Magician!

When we say that someone “lived a good long life” we acknowledge the inevitability — the ebb and flow — of life. Nothing grows forever; all clocks stop. There are seasons and ages of life; death is just the final act.

But death is not so important as life. It serves only to remind us how important life is. Each clock has only so many ticks; spend them wisely; make them count.

Remember: your expiration date is hidden from view! It could come at any moment.

When we remember an expired soul we loved, in some sense they live on in our hearts. When we imagine a conversation, when we imagine what they’d say, in some sense they are with us. There is a beautiful piece I love about how the best place to bury a good dog is in your heart.

Terry Pratchett certainly lives on with us in the pages of his books. Leonard Nimoy remains with us in his work as well.

And what matters — what really matters — are those gifts, those life-long gifts, they gave us. That is true for all those we love, what matters is the time we shared and the gifts we give.

life persists

The power of life!

There is an idea that pops up time and again. It’s expressed explicitly in Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park and Pratchett’s Soul Music and many other places. And that truth is expressed in fiction, it’s also believed by many of the science-minded. Rather than a true idea, it may even be a true fact.

Life finds a way.

Life may be a fundamental aspect of the universe. Some believe that, given enough energy and time, life always arises. When we finally get out there and look around, we’ll find it everywhere.

But life that knows it alive, life that hears and acknowledges the ticking clock, may be rare and precious, an oasis, not of water, but of minds. To reach the point where we wonder about our place in the universe, to ponder our stewardship, this may be a special gift.

Terry Pratchett 2

Millennium hand and shrimp!

Life finds a way; life persists.

Yet it comes with costs; one of which is the final toll.

We arrive; we abide; ultimately we depart.

Those left behind rightfully mourn those the river washes away, but we must celebrate and honor those who still stand on the sandbar with us. They matter most. What you do today matters most.

For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, winter is almost over. March 20th (this coming Friday) is the Vernal Equinox, which officially marks the beginning of Spring and light.

In the midst of death and loss, we’re reminded that life continues, that life finds a way, that it is a gift to be lived to the fullest every tick of the clock.

Vernal Cycles

springThe Earth.
Ever looping, ever spinning,
Passes a point.
Spring!
The Sun.
Ever higher, ever warmer,
Melts all the snow.
Spring!
The World.
Ever turning, ever changing,
Brings forth fresh life.
Spring!
Winter’s silence fades.
Birds sing, life renews.
A new year begins.
Spring!

Requiescat in pace, Terry Pratchett, 1948-2015.

Terry Pratchett 3

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

12 responses to “Death. And Life!

  • dianasschwenk

    *HUGS to you on the anniversary of your mom’s passing Smitty. I picture her smiling down on you with affectionate pride. ❤
    Diana xo

  • ~ Sadie ~

    This was so beautifully written, WS!! I am so ready for spring, too – the redbud trees are blooming here (among other things) ❤

    (And I am going to have to find time to check out Terry Pratchett's legacy 😉 )

  • Lady from Manila

    I just had to search for this particular post again which I remember reading many years ago. Rereading gave me a new appreciation for it now that I’m much older (and wiser? um, not yet still 🙂).

    I just finished the book ” The Courage To Grieve” by Judy Tatelbaum and I wish I had learned its lessons nine years ago when I had my first major loss. Now I realize the few who had expressed perplexity by my deep and dragged-on lamentation were justified to feel that way. At the time, I was plain miserable and full of “I wish” and “if only.” Little did I know a pathological problem could persist that is plain unhealthy for the survivor. The losses which came after weren’t any different — until one grave bereavement brought me to finally read the book that had been sitting on my shelf for ages.

    One powerful message from the author: “It is the true miracle of life that you can brutalize it, tear it apart, and still it survives.”
    Ms. Tatelbaum also pointed out that “grief, like manure, is meaningless until we learn how to use it. We each must find our own meanings in order to transform our suffering into something of value. We may deepen. We may create. What an opportunity given to us to be able to grow.”

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Yeah, the older we get, the more we have to deal with losing people. But, as you say, we get through it somehow. Doing something formal to observe and acknowledge the passing of a loved one seems to help. (Funerals are for the living!) Jewish custom involves a year of formal mourning followed by then letting go and moving on. Life is for the living.

      But it does suck pruning major branches off your tree. Hurts! I’ve noticed that the older I get the smaller my life gets. It isn’t just people we lose. I suppose some of it has to do with ennui, there seeming to be less of the things we love to explore (I’ve heard all the Fleetwood Mac songs and so many others). Or maybe it’s cynicism. So many disappointments and losses that we grow weary and wary. I try for some combination of hedonism and stoicism. Enjoy the stuff that makes me happy (and there is plenty of that) and try to ignore the shit (of which there is also plenty). I don’t watch the news at all anymore…

      Speaking of shit, I’ve also heard (I think in Hello, Dolly!) that money is like manure. It’s no good unless you spread it around! 💩

      • Lady from Manila

        Hi Wyrd! I’ve no idea why your reply failed to alert me promptly in my notifications. How I agree with you — losing loved ones (both people and animals, in my case) is a different level of pain, sentimental and sensitive person that I am.

        I also can’t forget one of the most precious and poignant lessons you imparted to me long ago: “It is what it is.” A line I would force myself to remember every time a loss felt unbearable.

        You spoke of ennui, how about some out-of-town traveling? Neither do I watch TV or the news anymore. You’re still quite young, Wyrd. There’s more than enough time for you to pursue a number of other hobbies and creative outlets that you might fancy.

        As I might’ve mentioned, I’ve been going through unread books on my shelf these days. Certain losses have been making me reach out to a Higher Power because I just can’t do it alone anymore. There’s this one splendid book that states, “Well, you’ve tried everything else. Why not try prayer?” So I’ve resorted to pray more hoping to become more spiritual. Although I admit to having a hard time wholly ingesting many scriptures from the Bible.

        You’re right. Material wealth is valuable only if it’s shared around.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        I think I’ve mentioned that WordPress has gone downhill in the last few years. I now get the impression of a once great restaurant where the original owners have sold the place and moved on to greener pastures. The new owners don’t have the love or ability, they just want to make money off the place, so the quality declines. I’ve seen that happen with restaurants I loved many times, so I recognize the signs. If I could find a better blogging platform, I’d be outta here, but long-form blogging seems a thing of the past now.

        Which is all to say I’m not surprised WP failed on notifications. Their shit sucks.

        Loss seems part and parcel of getting older. The loss side of the ledger this whole century has too many entries. My marriage, two positions at work, my dog, both parents, three good friends,… yeah, the losses add up. The trick seems to be that “one day at a time” thing.

        The saving grace for me has been my hobbies and interests, but the problem with ennui is even stuff you like seems boring. A road trip might help. I’ve been thinking about driving down to Kansas City to watch the Royals play.

        No longer young. I’ve definitely reached the point where “late 60s” is appropriate, and my lifestyle and general inattention to self-care means it’s a pretty ragged late 60s. Some mornings I really wonder how much time is left on the clock.

        I don’t know how much spirituality one can get from books (but different things work for different people). I think spirituality requires looking within oneself and out to the world to find that connection with a greater purpose and meaning. The notion of a higher power is a good one, I think, and one I happen to believe in. I used to pray for strength and guidance, but I realized I was made with those tools — had’m all along. (The trick is learning to use them well.) When I pray now it’s more like, “Hey, how ya doin’? Great thunderstorm today! Nice work!”

      • Lady from Manila

        A road trip definitely would lift your spirits up up and aweee 😊! Go go wherever your heart leads you to, Wyrd. I had a friend from rural Kansas. His love for that state made him profess he’d want his ashes scattered on the land someday.

        Sometimes I also get frightened by how fast time flies. Because I still have a lot to do and goals to achieve. Most often, I also still feel like the girl I used to be. My transformation due to huge changes in my health lifestyle during the worldwide pandemic lockdown was a big factor. But entropy had to kick in. A couple of tragedies this year brought me to my knees — which made me stop in my tracks. Hoping to regain my bearings, I pulled out some old self-help books which touch on religion and spirituality as well. I do and feel better when I get guidance from good and experienced authorities about life and death.

        Noting to boot the truth to what you said that losing people and animals we’ve loved automatically makes our world so much smaller.

        I guess I may not be as strong as you are, Wyrd.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Well, as far as that goes, my heart is fine at home, I don’t feel the yearning to go someplace. It’s more that, since I retired in 2013, there hasn’t been much variety, so I’m feeling somewhat in a rut. A trip might shake that up, but so would a lot of other changes. I think I do need some sort of change, but I haven’t decided on what it is.

        I do think the key is having “a lot to do and goals to achieve.” It keeps us moving forward and looking outward. The other choice is just giving up, but that’s boring. So might as well keep on keeping on.

        I’m not sure it’s a matter of strength so much as sheer dogged determination. Hang in there!

      • Lady from Manila

        Wise Wyrd that you are, you’ll work out something that would shake things up and somehow banish ennui. These days I go out regularly to simply take a stroll and hang out in nearby malls even just to read or surf the net.

        Enjoy the week ahead, Wyrd. I’ll keep going through and reading your previous posts and comments. Take good care. God bless. 🙏🌿🌈

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