The other day there was a profile in the New York Times of a nun, Sister Theresa Aletheia Noble, who has the singular goal of reminding people of the inevitability of death. I like this nun. I like this goal. I liked Muriel Spark’s novel Memento Mori, which is about a group of people receiving phone calls telling them, “Remember, you must die.” I also liked the app called Memento Mori, which sent daily quotes about death (as well as the same basic reminder that people received in Spark’s book) at unspecified times throughout the day.
(Apps being no more eternal than people, my copy of it got swallowed up in a botched phone upgrade, and I haven’t re-downloaded it. To all things their season.)
Twitter was less enthused about the nun, treating her like a cosmic killjoy, which I understand but don’t relate to. Don’t mistake me, I’m not obsessed with death or interested in getting there anytime soon, nor am I above the morbid fear of nothingness, etc. I just think—I mean, we’re gonna. So it bears a little contemplation in the meantime.
To me, this is an opportunity to think about the mystery of existence; does it end? Does it continue? What is the nature of mind and matter and energy and self? I think about these things all the time anyway; I already believe that reality is at best semi-stable; and my own attachment to continuity and control is something that becomes problematic for me often enough, so—what about the opposite? No continuity, no control?
No one is going to like this line of thinking, are they? I get that. But if you spend enough seasons planting seeds and getting excited about the sprouts and celebrating over the flowers and fruit and then raking the dried stalks back into the soil, the contemplation of death plays out in front of you, and you cannot avoid it. Maybe I’m just feeling a bit morbid because it’s starting to hit 100 on the regular. Maybe it’s because we only had three peaches on our tree this year, and yesterday some birds absolutely eviscerated them—I mean, sucked out every ounce of juice like so many sky-bound Bunniculas.
Anyway. We have hauled out our tiny Japanese collapsable soaking tub, which is the only way we are able to spend daytime hours outside in the summer, submerged in cool water up to our necks, listening to those self-same Bunnicula birds coo softly in the trees. I spent a week or so stressed out of my mind about where to turn my attention next, artistically; what project, what story, what person, what mind. I was running without getting anywhere, like a cartoon character who doesn’t realize they’ve been plucked up off the ground. I feel better now, which means I don’t really feel like talking about it anymore, because the things I have to say will not be said here, in this manner of speech.
On Saturday I went to an antique mall and wandered around, digging through old crates of records. That’s the time it is: to wander in and through every desire and whim and inevitability, without necessarily being able to tell the one from the other. Yesterday I harvested larkspur seeds. The sunflowers are being shredded, but they are still growing.