“A tiny bit of death each day is good for a human. Any more than that and you risk being considered over-reaching and rather selfish.”
– Jim Glines
(with a nod to Oscar Wilde)
Death, as in the physical, isn’t something very wonderful. It has its purpose, however, and we as humans generally respect and fear it for the most part.
But there are many kinds of death, many facets and meanings of it. When we speak of death in this way we speak not merely of the ending of things or events but also that ultimate idea of death which is the idea of the person. In many ways these ‘little deaths’ are for the most part separations between events.
Since humans in general can concentrate on one thing at a time (and that with difficulty), we see that which we consider completion as an end. But I believe that all events in our universe are interrelated. One event begets another. We come to the end, let’s say, of a project we’ve been working on: a painting, for example. We sell the painting to someone who feels a connection to it, someone who has a personal reaction strong enough to take that painting home and cherish it.
“Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.”
– Thomas Merton
For you, as the artist, that’s pretty much the end of it. Fond, lingering memories of its creation, perhaps, or the technical lessons learned in its production. But it goes farther than that. You sold it to someone who liked it, and in that way you have enriched their life. Subsequently they have enriched your life, too, both in satisfaction in your work and finances to convert to other energies or goods.
But parting with that painting might cause a ‘wistful’ feeling deep down inside. You know you’re not going to see that painting again (unless you sold it to a friend). That painting goes off into the world and now has its own life outside of your control. And this feeling is a ‘little death’. A separation. An ending.
Consider this: you’ve let the painting go and the energy, creativity and love that you spent making it has transformed into a new television, braces for you kid’s teeth, whatever. It’s a transfer of energies between you and the person that bought your work.
After, say, a hundred years or so, that painting could be given to the world by being displayed in a museum. That ‘little death’ you experienced could very well live on forever in this fashion, and it just might be seen as something so important that its mere existence changes the minds and feelings of generations to come.
And you thought all you got out of it was some lousy television set, or a new guitar, or a month’s worth of groceries.
“Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine and at last you create what you will.”
– George Bernard Shaw
My point is this: you are a creation. You make creation. And any creation always and forever lives in some form or another, even if perhaps it is no longer part of the reality of your life, or is out of your thinking. Even if it has made its way through a ‘little death’. All things go on being.
All things experience transition, transformation, transference. All things, all people, all life, all things inanimate. To quote Frank Herbert in his book Children of Dune, ‘All things go through the crucible and return again in their changed form’.
I have done this. I am even now in the process of it and to be sure, it will not be the last time.
The change I am going through right now may be painful. The ‘wist’ I feel for things past is strongly felt. The separations, the ‘little deaths’ are as it turns out very little to fear since it is change that runs the universe. The things we love, the things we have lost, the moments that we’ve had — all of these are a continuation of time and change. Of course it can be believed that these changes belong to us; in reality they do not belong to us alone but rather belong to everything and everyone that has come before and to everyone and everything that is yet to come. So we cannot be selfish when considering our own experiences and our own creation.
“For good and evil, man is a free creative spirit. This produces the very queer world we live in, a world in continuous creation and therefore continuous change and insecurity.”
– Joyce Carey
All of the universe’s events lead to having ‘our time’ and when our time is done, others will benefit. They may not understand how our ‘little death’ brought about their existence but I have come to believe that it has, and that all things past echo to us and in turn, the things we have done will resonate in the future.
“And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.”
– John Lennon
If we are very lucky we get to re-experience some elements of the past but it is important to remember this: that past come back has been changed in the crucible. Changes can be viewed as good, bad or indifferent but there’s something you can’t help but see in them, and that is just how much you’ve changed in your own crucible, too. In this way the universe, our reality, our very presence multiplies the changes in others with the changes in ourselves and creates a new and stunning view of the world.
We may not be able to understand change, but we must be willing to acknowledge and accept it. Only then can we come to terms with our ‘little deaths’ and see them in a different way: to see them together as one great big life.