All Perishing All Divine

When we accidentally step on an insect (I know, for some it is not an accident), we see the life gone from it in an instant. What was now a creeping, crawling, flittering thing is now a dead thing at your feet, whether we stop to wonder at and praise the thing for its life or whether we pass by and on to our business. Death is all around us in that case, simply as a matter of course, and when it happens it happens no questions asked.

The same is the case with animals whose corpses we find along the road--"roadkill" we call them--or with the poor birds who flew into the glass-paned doors at our restaurant. They die, there is no funeral procession for them, and in no time we can go back to a drink with our friends, or continue querying the GPS for directions. We do not wonder at the destiny of the soul of these beings, do not ask whether there is a heaven for them.

Not so with our own deaths. Even the possibility of our own deaths stops us in our tracks, and has us consider what it means to live. We feel we hear our own souls bid us to question after their true home, and ask what type of light- or shadow-play awaits them after they depart the earth. In the ways we approach our own deaths, we further forget our fellow animals' lives on the earth, including the fellow animals we are to ourselves and the animals we have inside us.

Perhaps it would do us some good to transpose the perspective we commonly take on other animal beings onto our own animal deaths. Then there is a simple lights-out quality to our own deaths the way there is for other beings around us. There are beings with feet like mountains, with hands like cosmic walls, for whom our deaths are like the consequesnce of washing those monstrous hands. Death: the great equalizer not only between humans, but also between humans and all perishing things. And every thing is something perishing.

We are suspending here Heidegger's superb Dasein-analysis and its implication that other living beings perish while Dasein--dies. Dasein alone dies, because Dasein alone carries with it the question of the world as a whole, while other living beings are poor in world. The analysis reminds us of one of the primal mysteries, the mystery of the distinction between human being and other beings, a mystery that seems to insist upon itself even in the midst of equalizing discourses. But again, we suspend this analysis, and for this reason: a faith that whatever we are must partake of the gross as well as the subtle, must participate and acknowledge every realm of being if we are to--become what we are. World or poor in world or no world at all, there is something about the human being that simply perishes along with every other being, and this somthing is in large part revealed by the way in which we casually ignore the ubiquitous death all around us.

For other beings, even others who also mourn their own fallen, take part in this massive ignorance of death. Think of the elephant, whose own dead make her halt and bow, and march in long processions with her herd. But think too of all the insects devoured on the leaves she eats, the small animals and insects crushed by her plodding steps. Think of the maggots making a nest in the decomposing body of your beloved hound, the cat with its row of game left for you as a gift on the front porch. Part of life just is a passing-over other lives and their life and death. Perhaps it would do us some good to remind ourselves of the rather unremarkable ways we die along with all epics and soul-searching and -searing catastrophe.
Perhaps it would be just as beautiful and enriching to imagine every being besides the human as included in the pantheon of saved souls, considering the light or the darkness dawning for them or approaching them at death the same way we imagine it does for us. So now, every minute particle of living dust--for everthing is alive now--shares the same weight and magnificence, and it is just as important to ask of every speck of dust where it came from and where it is headed as it is to ask the same of ourselves. Again equalizing, but in the other direction. Now, we are blinded, as it were, by the craving for life and immortality of every iota of existence. And, the same way we had to account for it all in our own regard, spend our lives trying to account for it all, now we have to do in respect to everything. "What good is my happiness," Zarathustra said. "It is poverty and filth and wretched contentment. But my happiness ought to justify existence itself." Whether this particular phrase is too heroic for us or not, Zarathustra is saying something that needs be applied if we are to take this second course of equalizing our deaths with the deaths of other beings, the path of equalizing through shared glory and blessing. If not justify, we must at least partake of and have a share in every other life. This perspective deems life as heaps of self-affirming dust that craves the piles and collections of itself to affirm the whole as much as the whole is already affirmed in its minutest particle.

This seems even harder to bear than the former equalizing perspective of leveling our own deaths to the level of the mass of deaths around us, the perspective of our dying as just plain old perishing. Now we pass along like dust and to dust we shall return, but now all the dust is also a billowing and blooming effulgence, now the dust is taking on endless shapes, and each form tells its own drama and writes its own destiny. Now we are dusty beings colliding with other sacks and specks of dust, breathing them in or wiping them away, but always somehow in communion with them. On this road we see mirrors of ourselves everywhere, and every mirror is a dusty mirror.

I other words, perhaps it would do us some good if we did not keep our deaths all to ourselves, to ourselves alone or to the human being alone. Perhaps if we shared our deaths with other beings, all other beings, death would take on a new visage for us. As for which road we take in sharing our deaths, which equalizing course, the one or the other--is undecided, perhaps undecidable.

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