I’m blessed with a body whose ticks mortally worry me. A little dizziness and the heart seems broken. Dull burn under the sternum and of course the cancer’s back. That little tingle in the lower rib cage? Obviously fatal. But between moments of earnest fright, I get a good laugh at it. This terror, in fact, is a good-natured partner, whose benevolence will eventually free me from the duty to wake up. Waking up, after all, isn’t so easy. Not many decide to do it. Why? Probably because you have to listen to the ticks…
But life, I say, is not a battle waged against death. I disagree with Nietzsche, who says that life is just a superior form of death. As much time as he spent in the woods, it’s easy to see why he would think this. Only a rock can return eternally; even this mad man had to have known this. But life is not something that’s almost or already dead. It’s a tick that worries me mortally, a tick whose source is unclear…
What comes when the ticker stops? Let’s join Socrates and admit that nobody really knows. We don’tneed to know. What we really have to deal with are the people who are living. Because those are the only kind of people that exist. Even when they are dead.
Okay, so I have a funny theory. Here’s how it goes: physics comes after love. The physical reality of my body comes long after the creation of a love-interior with/in my mother. And long before I have any conception of a being extended in space, I know myself “pre-subjectively” as this being-among-other-beings. And so the theory is this: death can do nothing to strip away this withness.
This is difficult thought. We are quite convinced that the physical presence of a person is their most beautiful and realist dimension. And it’s true: who would prefer to talk on the phone over talking “in person”? And when it comes to new formations of relation between people, this dimension of physical presence is unavoidable. But here I’m not asking the question of additional life, additional relationships, and additional time. I’m talking about the relationality that precedes every physical encounter: a relational love that can never be stripped away.
Most of my readers here know that both of my parents are dead. This is a physical reality that cannot be negated, and I dream of no physical or spiritual reunification in the afterlife. Personally, I neither need nor want this. As far as their organisms are concerned, they are well on their way to an encapsulated decay, cushioned from total decomposition in the ground by a silky white film and a wrought iron vessel. That has little to do with them, or me.
Okay, so perhaps I’m being a bit crude in my description. The loss of my parents was the most formative event of my life, second only to my slow discovery of writing (tied inexorably to my own “battle” with cancer). But as the years have passed, the idea of “loss” has changed for me.
When my parents died, I obviously lost the ability to physically touch them. I lost the chance to ask them more about themselves. They had no chance to see me graduate or read the thousands of words I’ve written. (The few that I wrote for my father before his death both perplexed and riveted him: I told him that it would all be okay.) They won’t be walking me down the aisle. They won’t ever live under my roof, and I won’t get to see them at a wise old age. (I saw my father become wiser than I think he knew possible; and this wisdom perplexed and riveted him.) I’ve lost my parents in the past (I can’t remember shit), in the present (no possible contact), and for the future (no way to share anything with them). There won’t be anymore exchanges of information between them. In a way, I can’t imagine things being anymore horrible. Perhaps this is why I still have the ticks…
All of this, however, is an imaginative loss. Here’s the rough truth: it was not my lot to have them be there for these things. Their radiant physical absence confirms this. And so the fact that they won’t be there is not surprising. Better to get over this than to suffer under the sway of hopeful expectations.
Can I return to my silly, foolish theory? Desipte the total loss of their physical presence, along with the chance to form anything “new” in terms of human interaction, there is a deeper sense in which my parents have not gone anywhere. There is a deeper sense in which the register of presence-absence no longer reigns, where physical reality is merely secondary. I’m not talking about spiritual realms,but about the contagion of love. I think about how I was first formed, how I first came into the world, and I’m led to the somewhat absurd thesis that, to begin with, I was not a physical-mental thing, but rather, a space that I shared with my parents. The little time that I’ve spent with a close friend’s child confirms for me the importance — the absoluteness — of this shared milieu. I come into the world as something absolutely shared, in a world that cannot help but expand as I grow. I can’t share space with my parents again; they are irretrievably gone. But something deep inside me tells me this: insofar as I continue to share space and make room for others in the way that my parents did, they live on, supra-physically if you like, right here in the weird sensation of being-together, which you and I might even be sharing right now.
So while my physical death takes away the oppurtunity for me to continue to share in all this with you,there is no evidence that the interiors of love I’ve created in my life will not carry on unto infinity. Of course, I cannot be assured of this. Something that’s shared requires two. But I so strongly believe that it’s possible, and its evidence is ever more evident in my awareness, that I can have no doubt that you and I are both still here.
Ticks, my fear, my movedness: so long as I am animated, all of us are there. When my animation ceases, everyone else’s animation will go on. I’m not afraid of leaving, then. Partially because I will have left behind this record. But it’s not the words in the record that matter (everyone knows that). What matters is the interiors we create in the middle. This — isn’t it clear? — is up to both of us.
So here’s the ethics of all this: keep creating interiors with others, keep risking your heart, and you will never die, even if physical decay destroys your whole reality. Because even if physical decay destroys your whole reality, others goes on in your stead. Of course, they don’t replace you (we’re all irreplaceable). What goes on is the capacity to relate. What goes on is the love that I have for you and show; and it lives on where you love and how you show it. “A faith that is nothing at all.”
Here, then, is my conviction: the creation of a better world doesn’t involve fixing everything, eliminating problems, or eradicating death. To create a better world means this: create interiors, share something. Greet your fellow living beings. In my naive but prophetic vision, I know that this is our ultimate destiny and horizon. Why? Because in the greeting, we show death up, we put it in its place. Truly, how lame is death, when it cannot even keep the living from saying “hello” to one another? But how pertinent, how revealing death: it demands that we say hello as openly as we can. Because the time we have to greet and love one another is not unlimited. Life is finite, but love is infinite. Here, I argue, is the proof.
As a “survivor,” what is my duty? To never take the love-relation for granted, and never be afraid of the interior. Just as my mother could never directly see me in her womb, I can never see what, inside me, is omni-presently shared. I have to make the right moves, listen to the signals, respond adequately to the ticks. I’ve got to love you; and at least for right now, this is the only way I know how to do it. I’ve got to work as hard for you as my mother worked for me. And the truth is that I’ll die on the very same day that I know you’ll be okay. Evidently, I don’t know this yet, and so I stick around. Once I know, then I can go happly. Because then, I know that what I “am” and what I’ve “been” can never be discarded. I write so that you hold on.
Ethics: transfer unconditionally the beauty of the interior. Disinhibit your heart and your ears. Transfer the truth of what’s tricky in love. Don’t view relations according to cost-benefit analyses. Don’t dare dream of “reaping the fruits.” Prepare a ground, together — with your and your own inner stranger; with you and an intimate other; with you and a whole legion of other persons. Eye the “thing” beyond the physical with them. Remember the first embeddedness. Even when you are alone, you are not alone. There is always the chance, for the living at least, to share an interior.
For those grieving, I know that some of these words will be painful or confusing, but I have to insist. Perhaps by now you are even grieving my own death. I’m sorry for that, if you are. Do what you have to do, of course; but remember: we can’t go anywhere, since obviously, even in grief, we’re together, interior.
Death is an abyss that will continue to frighten us, because it continually challenges us with the truth (and pain) of an ineliminable relation. Even when the person is gone. Perhaps dreams of the afterlife meant to retain a sense of this relation; but insofar as they postpone it or reserve it for “their” loved ones, these dreams occluded the true and immanent relation. I’m not talking about something “hoped for.” I’m talking about an intertwinement that you cannot avoid. It’s scary and warm, like emerging, again and for the first time, in a womb-person.
In my chest, I hear my mother tick. And I know, without paradox, that the heart that ticks is my own. I’m abandoned to this, ignorant as to with whom I form these interiors now. But this does not deter me. The evidence of the love is patently profound and irremoveable. Let us listen for the lullaby and sing.