Elias presents ... a worm!    Thoughts on family, philosophy,
and technology


Tuesday, September 07, 2004

The bigness of life

Eli is 23 days old today, and my mother died exactly three years ago today.

When she died I learned how overwheming death is. Something that hadn't occurred to me before, jumped out: death is incomprehensible. Or: death is metaphysical. You can't understand it, you can only accept it.

There is no frame of reference for death. It's not just "different" from life, it's the absense of a part of reality, it's an unimaginable nothingness. Sartre said it is a wall we cannot see past. That Garfunkel song Bright Eyes for the movie "Watership Down" more artfully pondered if it is a kind of shadow or dream. I think the common theme here is that our daily way of understanding things is incapable of conceiving someone's death.

Let's say Joe is happy. Okay, I get that. Now Joe is asleep? Well, I know what that means too. But what about this: Joe is dead. That statement appears to be about Joe -- but the problem is that there is no "Joe" anymore. So what does it mean? What is the statement even about?

I do think we can grasp this fact, this new arrangement of reality when someone is gone, but it's such a BIG change in the world -- to really grasp it you have to change a lot yourself. It can take days to start seeming real at all, and years to really sink in.

Birth is metaphysical in this sense also. Several times immediately before Eli's birth, and for a few days after, I grappled with the oddity that a person can just appear. How can I make a person?! I know hardly anything about anatomy ... but, surprise, I've gone and made an entire human being. Eli didn't exist, but now he does.

In our myths, this life-creation power is reserved for gods. Ironically, in reality it is one of the simplest things: a pair of unemployed teenagers can make a baby. One of the most amazing things is how hard Amy and I had to work to create our careers, to buy and fix up our house, etc. -- these things took many years and tens of thousands of dollars. Whereas creating Eli took a few months, and it didn't cost any money.

Yet he is immediately more precious to us than anything else in the world (besides eachother).

UPDATE: Speaking of death, I just learned that 1000 U.S. soldiers have now died in the Iraq war. Don't let the number fool you into thinking it is merely a statistic. This is a metaphysically personal fact, it's a loss of life. To understand it is to hurt.

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  • At 4:58 PM , Blogger c said...

    hello, i found you in my stats, so I came over to take a look. I really like what you've done here, what a lovely idea to write with your new born child in mind. It's all very touching.


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