mortality as a kind of strength

Other forms of sought experience confront mortality very differently, when you try to align yourself with immortal things and, in the presence of quick passing objects, assimilate the perception of mortality as a kind of strength. Nature is usually what we need to experience to make the trick work.

The sights of trees, or mountaintops, or the sea, possess their intrinsic delights by diversity of colors, and motion, and the millions of objects in a single scene. But nature takes on its occult power for redeeming experience when it puts the human being at a middle point between the perishable and the eternal.

You watch nature’s decline in autumn and rebirth in spring, while you stay just as you were; half the objects in a forest clearing will die before you do, the leaves and birds and mushrooms, and yet you stay the same.

Nature’s beauty seems to have been made for you, since only a human being can appreciate it; but you know nature is not created for you, and this melancholy indifference of nature to your appreciation adds its own gratifying experience of superior knowledge.

It’s easier, finally, to have a mountain outlive you than another human being—especially when you know the mountain as it doesn’t know you, and everything smaller submits to you, as the squirrels run away in fright and the leaves fall at your feet.

Greif, Mark. Essays Against Everything. New York: Vintage Books, 2016. 83–84. Print.


Good People

What kinds of movies do I like the best? If I had to make a generalization, I would say that many of my favorite movies are about Good People.

It doesn’t matter if the ending is happy or sad. It doesn’t matter if the characters win or lose. The only true ending is death. Any other movie ending is arbitrary.

If a movie ends with a kiss, we’re supposed to be happy. But then if a piano falls on the kissing couple, or a taxi mows them down, we’re supposed to be sad. What difference does it make?

The best movies aren’t about what happens to the characters. They’re about the example that they set.


Ebert, Roger. “Reflections after 25 years at the movies.” Roger Ebert’s Journal. 12 Apr. 1992.


a thinking reed

The profound dialectic in the human being’s awareness of his own being is pictured with incomparable beauty by Pascal:

Man is only a reed, the feeblest reed in nature, but he is a thinking reed. There is no need for the entire universe to arm itself in order to annihilate him: a vapour, a drop of water suffices to kill him. But were the universe to crush him, man would yet be more noble than that which slays him, because he knows that he dies, and the advantage that the universe has over him; of this the universe knows nothing.

May, Rollo and Ernest Angel, Henri F. Ellenberger. Existence: A New Dimension in Psychiatry and Psychology. New York: Basic Book, Inc., 1958. 42. Print.


death doth nothing concern us

III. TRUE it is, indeed, and too true, that men generally abhor Death, sometimes because they look upon it as the Greatest of Pains, sometimes because they apprehend it as the cessations of all their enjoiments, or privation of all things that are dear to them in life; but in both these respects, altogether without cause: since this thing, Not-to-live, or Not-to-be, ought to be no occasion of Terror; because when once we come to that, we shall have no faculty left whereby to know, that Not-to-live hath any thing of Evil in it.

IV. HEREUPON, we may conclude that those are great Fools who abhor to think that after Death their Bodies should be torn by wild beasts, burned in the flame of the funeral pile, devoured by worms, etc. for, they do not consider, that then they shall not be, and so not feel, not complain, that they are torn, burned, devoured by corruption or worms. And that those are Greater Fools, who take it grievously that they shall no longer enjoy the conversation of their Wives, Children, Friends, no longer do them good offices, nor afford them their assistance; for these do not consider, that then they shall have no longer Relation to, nor Desire of Wife, Children, Friends, or any thing else.

V. WE said, that Death (accounted the King of Terrors, and most horrid of all Evils) doth nothing concern us, because, while we are, Death is not; and when Death is, we are not; so that he, who profoundly considers the matter, will soon conclude that Death doth not concern neither the Living, nor the Dead; not the living, because it yet toucheth them not, not the Dead, because they are not.

VI. AND, as the assurance of this, that Death nothing concerns us, doth exempt us from the greatest of Terrors, so also doth it make us to enjoy life to the most advantage of pleasure, not by adding thereunto any thing of uncertain Time, but by Detracting all desire of Immortality. For, in life there can be nothing Evil to him, who doth perfectly understand, that there can be nothing of Evil in the privation of life.

Charleton, Walter. Epicurus: His Morals. London: Peter Davies, 1926. 7677. Print.


“She’s leaving!”

Bill Murray is recalling the last time he and Saturday Night Live cast members saw Gilda Radner before her death in 1989.

Gilda got married and went away. None of us saw her anymore. There was one good thing: Laraine had a party one night, a great party at her house. And I ended up being the disk jockey. She just had forty-fives, and not that many, so you really had to work the music end of it.

There was a collection of like the funniest people in the world at this party. Somehow Sam Kinison sticks in my brain. The whole Monty Python group was there, most of us from the show, a lot of other funny people, and Gilda.

Gilda showed up and she’d already had cancer and gone into remission and then had it again, I guess. Anyway she was slim. We hadn’t seen her in a long time. And she started doing, “I’ve got to go,” and she was just going to leave, and I was like, “Going to leave?” It felt like she was going to really leave forever.

So we started carrying her around, in a way that we could only do with her. We carried her up and down the stairs, around the house, repeatedly, for a long time, until I was exhausted. Then Danny did it for a while. Then I did it again.

We just kept carrying her; we did it in teams. We kept carrying her around, but like upside down, every which way — over your shoulder and under your arm, carrying her like luggage. And that went on for more than an hour — maybe an hour and a half — just carrying her around and saying, “She’s leaving! This could be it! Now come on, this could be the last time we see her. Gilda’s leaving, and remember that she was very sick — hello?”

We worked all aspects of it, but it started with just, “She’s leaving, I don’t know if you’ve said good-bye to her.” And we said good-bye to the same people ten, twenty times, you know.

And because these people were really funny, every person we’d drag her up to would just do like five minutes on her, with Gilda upside down in this sort of tortured position, which she absolutely loved. She was laughing so hard we could have lost her right then and there.

It was just one of the best parties I’ve ever been to in my life. I’ll always remember it. It was the last time I saw her.

Shales, Tom and James Andrew Miller. Live from New York: an Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live : as told by its stars, writers and guests. New York: Back Bay Books, 2003.


the self evaporates

The author is recounting her final days with a friend, three years after his HIV-positive diagnosis.

Nick collapsed suddenly one Friday night.

He had seemed so stable just a few days before. But all those interconnected networks in his body finally hit that critical threshold and the cascading failure mode kicked in. He hung on long enough to give his friends a chance to say good-bye, before quietly slipping away in the dead of night when no one was looking.

This is what I realized that gut-wrenching night when I found myself alone with Nick’s lifeless body: something essential does depart. There is more to death than just the shutdown of the body’s metabolic engine; the brain shuts down too, and once that happens, the self evaporates, because human consciousness is emergent.

It is all those underlying processes, the constant flow of neural information, that give rise to consciousness, which is why significant disruptions in that flow lead to unconsciousness. Once those processes cease entirely, the self disappears forever. . . . Nick, too, confronted the void of nonexistence, admitting to me during yet another hospital stay that, during his darkest days, he seriously considered suicide.

In the end, he said, he choose to think of his approaching death as surfing one last giant wave: “I decided I’m just gonna ride that wave all the way into shore.”

Ouellette, Jennifer. Me, Myself, and Why: Searching for the Science of Self. New York: Penguin Books, 2014. 25759. Print.