"The first people totalitarians destroy or silence are men of ideas and free minds." ~ Isaiah Berlin
"Eheu fugaces labuntur anni."
("Alas, the fleeting years slip by.")
c4"> Our existences, to a great degree, I feel, are woven with the threads of happiness represented by the lives of those we hold dear. When those threads snap, as they must, their fellows must gain in the tensile strength of love to bear the greater strain placed on them. Death is a corrupter, a cleanser, a thief, and a clarifier. It is immutable, and the only thing any of us beyond doubt have in common. Death is the forge in which resilience is tested, and the gauntlet to be run which none shall finish. It is tragic in youth, a relief in dotage, an endless ache to a mother, and a tool of the powerful and power-mad. Much is thwarted by death, and much accomplished. It is the meter by which life is measured, in some ways, more incisively than others.
c4">This was brought home to me recently when I realized I was wearing a dead man's shoes. I laugh now at the double entendre of this revelation, but it was mortally serious to me then. I was at my good friend's apartment, on an errand, preparing to leave upon its completion, when I looked down at the cat lying in a sunbeam, next to my feet, also in the sunbeam, and saw a dead man's shoes on them. I have another very good friend, whose son had unhappily died two nights before, of a freak accident. The son, also, I am proud to say, my friend, had roomed with me for a few months, to cut expenses, that is to say, temporarily. I never had any complaints of him as a lodger, with the single exception of moving in a fellow tenant without consulting me, and even that was not as great an encumbrance as I probably then made it out to be, and he held the distinction of being the only roommate I ever had who paid what he owed, even after he had moved out. He was always a fellow of character in my sight, and I cannot recall ever hearing anyone speak ill of him.
c4">Upon the occasion of his departure, and the end of our tenure as housemates, a great many things were, of necessity, left behind, as he had just had time to get all of his things to my home when he got the opportunity of slightly lower rent, in a better location. He left in the middle of the month, but paid till the end, which I took as very gentlemanly in him. In the closet of his old bedroom, in which many of my things had continued to be stored, I happened upon a pair of rather nice thong sandals, which I thereafter began using as sort of "house shoes." I had never seen him, or the other lodger, wearing them as far as I could recall, and one of them was slightly damaged, so that they might be castoffs. In any case, I never mentioned them, and he never inquired after them. I could have returned them deliberately, but, on the other hand, they could have been the other lodger's, who left owing me a good bit, indeed. I did nothing, however, but use the shoes.
c4">And so it was that, that morning, I looked down and saw that I was wearing a dead man's shoes (for I had never really tricked myself with the "other roommate" theory). I wondered that I had blithely slipped them on that morning, forgetful of their origin, so as not to step in the cat litter which would inevitably be strewn in places where it is eventually necessary for us all to walk, for I had fancied myself of better character. I felt myself a traitor to his memory for my thoughtlessness. I shall always wear them now with respect and gratitude.
c4">Later, I saw the bereaved mother, also my good friend, who was in the process of visiting those who had known her son at his places of employment and where he had frequented for pleasure, in order to arrange a memorial and wake. I was honored, I must say, that I was the person she specifically wanted to accompany her on these rounds, for emotional support. Afterwards, when she relinquished me unto my own door, she said how much she appreciated my efforts. I protested that all I had really done was sit there next to her, and, indeed, my most active function during the evening was to touch her arm every now and again when she had a crying and shaking spell, on those occasions when the waking nightmare through which she was moving threatened to overwhelm her. She replied to the effect that merely knowing I was there, within reach, though she had hardly looked at me during the various conversations, was a boon and a buoy. My task had been to lurk near at hand, and, as my lurking skills are highly developed, due to my ability, amazing to my friends, to sit or stand motionless and silent for hours in any size gathering, I was the ideal person for the job.
c4">Later in the week, a memorial was held which was attended by literally hundreds of people, some coming from other parts of the country, whom he had made a sufficient impression on to oblige them to travel hundreds of miles for an hour-long ceremony. A parson spoke, and advised that the bereft seek solace in religion, but, as I have stated elsewhere, that sort of consolation is closed to me. I therefore, as I learned later another friend of mine does on occasions when he is in gatherings where group prayer is proposed, chose to reflect on the decedent, and what his life had meant to me. What I discovered was that, though I have for a long while bemoaned the continuing decay of manners and character among the young, the twenty-year-old we were there for had displayed both consistently, and, though he behaved in the misguided ways sometimes that all impulsive youth does, his foundation was sound. It was a relief to think that, in the face of modern "culture," a person in his circumstance could retain the delicate qualities which are too often the first casualties of the youth's war on reality. Life had not, and would not have, I feel, beaten or ground those things out of him which distinguish those who truly live from those who merely exist.
c4">My own feelings on death, that is, my own death, are ambiguous, at best, due to my lack of belief in an ethereal continuation of existence after my own life has ebbed away. On the one hand, I believe that the opportunity I have to live now, that is, in the present, is the only moment guaranteed me, the past being no more than a collection of memories, and the future but unresolved potentialities, therefore, death is the end, and is to be avoided in the cause of continuing this extremely interesting (to me, at least) chain of experiences. On the other hand, if death is, indeed, the true end of my existence as a corporeal being, and there is no expectation of anything but impenetrable oblivion, then, I ask myself, what is there to fear? I incur no penalty for my actions thus far, and I won't, presumably, care what's said about me. Why worry about it?
c4">These seemingly contradictory impulses have actually had a pleasing, to me, coalescence in my own attitude towards the ending of my life, that is to say, the point at which circumstance obliges the dissipation of my consciousness from its locomotive and sensory shell. That my death is, or shall be, a fact is undeniable. I will die. So will everyone else. Nothing can be done about it. The key is that, from this realization, I feel a renewed sense of the worth of living life as I wish, not as others might have me live it. As long as I strive to obey the dictates of reciprocity of action, and do as I would be done by, and in some cases, pointed out to me by good fortune, better than such, I can say I feel I have carried out my obligation, whatever that may be, both to my fellow creatures and to my self-respect, and may, thereby, esteem myself worthy of life itself.