Death’s Cape

Death has made me somewhat ambivalent about life. Ambivalent means “having mixed feelings about something; being unable to choose between two (usually opposing) courses of action.”

I feel more disconnected these days; more like a spectator than a participant. Losing Susan has taken the wind out of my sails. I’m not as into the voyage as before but I’m not quite ready to sink either. Becalmed in the Sargasso Sea I’m struggling to row my way back into the shipping lanes. I’m writing every day, spending time with family and friends, traveling a bit, trying new hobbies but it’s slow going with only one oar.

Death unmasks the transience of everything, including people. Anyone can be taken away without warning. YOU can be taken away without warning! Theoretically we all know this but it becomes more visceral when Death’s cape brushes you as he passes. The contact causes vertigo, churning your emotions and confusing your thoughts.

You find yourself asking: why put much time and effort into staying in shape, decorating the house, landscaping the yard, climbing the corporate ladder or making new friends? We’re here on tourist visas. (When was the last time you bought a painting for a hotel room or planted flowers at a highway rest stop?)

You don’t have to be depressed or suicidal to raise these questions. Even those at the pinnacle of power ponder the vicissitudes of life and death. Ecclesiastes is the ultimate tale of ambivalence as Solomon vacillates between decadence and austerity, labors and indolence, wisdom and folly, only to conclude:

“Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher.
“Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.”
What do people gain from all their labors
at which they toil under the sun?
Generations come and generations go,
but the earth remains forever.

If everything is meaningless, why keep going? Or, as another writer put the question in the mouth of another monarch centuries later,

“To be, or not to be:
that is the question.”


7 thoughts on “Death’s Cape

  1. Susan was so good at decorating and she was constantly changing things. She kept her family and friends eager to see what was next. I know you were frequently changing the color of your home and became Susan’s paint brush as she refreshed the home that you shared with so many through the years. She knew life was transient but kept both her physical and spiritual life beautiful. I miss my precious sister so much but my journey through grief is a different monster than yours. We all have our monsters to fight and like little children we find out our monsters won’t kill us but the thought of them being there still makes us cringe as we open the closet of our lives every day. This too shall pass, but just to damn slowly.!!!! We are impatient beings.

  2. Mike,
    You are one of the best writers that I’ve read. It can also be hard when one looses something or someone to life. I had a call at 8am from my doctor to give me the good news and the bad. The good came first and i was very happy. The second was possibly not so good and i became sad in the moment. I live moment to moment and will do my best and kind of looking forward to the other side. Keep it up because Susan would want you to be all you can be, and you know it. Mike, don’t worry as we will all be seeing Susan soon enough. Until then we keep on keeping on in this mostly fallen piece of crap world and attempt to have large turnouts at our funerals. By doing the best we can for others which unfortunately requires us to do the best for ourselves, is just what we have to do, and that sucks.

    Love you, Aaron

  3. Sad words but forthright and beautifully expressed. But I have a question. Even though Solomon was at the pinnacle of power and wealth, don’t you think he was nevertheless depressed?

  4. Love the painting for a hotel room and flowers at the rest stop imagery. In fact, I have purchased some art, albeit small, for a hotel stay. The planting seeds at a rest stop is such a Ladybird Johnson thing to do! Yes, I have strewn wildflower seeds along the highway too.

    Because of the temporary nature of life, because if the fleeting heartbeats, I treasure fresh flowers, newly painted rooms, and spring grass. We (cancer patients) build, write, and love not because it leads us to status or success, but because we can. Remember building blocks as a kid? Buy some and build for the joy of the fleeting moment.

    May we all enjoy the seeds strewn by ladies and birds–and maybe we can leave a few blossoms along our own paths.

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