Death is nothing new to me, although this year has presented to me the cold truth about the entire concept. It is strange, isn’t it, to view death as a concept? But it is one, while also being a fact of life. Some may roll their eyes and say that death is not a part of life, but I believe it is, for it is through life that we witness and come to understand death.
Only one thing can be compared with death, and that is life.
We have the ability to reflect on the deaths of others. It is a gift to be alive, but, at times, the ability of sentience seems to be a curse, especially in the face of news regarding the slaughtering of hundreds, and the quiet slipping aways of those we have deemed worthy of the crown of celebrity.
I write this on the day of my reflection on the death of Carrie Fisher. While I have seen her in a limited number of films, I understand that she inhabited a spirit of varying mediums. On the day of her death, I became aware of her place in the literary community. Her work has been described, albeit in this case briefly, as a voice in the genre of memoir, self-deprecation, and writing on mental illness. While I knew of her experiences with bipolar disorder and use of drugs, I did not know to what extent she had expressed knowledge of these subjects.
It amazed and interested me, in the hours following the news of her death, that there were but a few posts about Ms. Fisher’s involvement in the conversation about mental illness in the midst of hundreds of articles about her place in the canon of Star Wars. The posts about her personal work came later. That, of course, is not a problem, per se. The concept of celebrity is an interesting one. How does one effectively honor anyone, for that matter? Is it possible to understand every action of a person you, most likely, have never met? How well do you know those that you have?
On a different note, a more critical one, the concept and ensuing conversation of mental illness is one that takes precedence in niche forms of expression. To the general public, it is still something to be hidden. We see it everywhere, but are truly unaware of its manifestations, its causes, and effects.
It is difficult to imagine a world where ignorance is more revealing than knowledge. It is not easy to admit that we, in our nature, are not knowledgeable about everything.
Death has touched the lives of those I know, those I will never meet, and those I do not yet know. Earlier this year, a group of people I knew mainly in high school lost a close friend. Her name was Amy. I, along with a friend and several others close to her, attended her wake. Numbed – perhaps from anxiety, or from the sheer vividness -, I witnessed the grief of those I had once known to be nearly entirely happy. In high school, the good outperformed the bad, even its darkest manifestations. Amy’s death was one that affected me wholeheartedly. Perhaps it is was witnessing the reactions of those I knew were close to her. Perhaps it was seeing her once in life and once more, in person, in death. I was touched by the testimonial confessions which arose from those who came to honor her. I pray for their strength and respect their resolve, their posterity.
The shooting in Orlando left a dark impression on my heart. I probably will never view certain things the same way again. I do not have the stomach to envision the horrors of that night too much. It brings to mind all of the horrors of the past 20 years – the years my generation were born to witness. I have vague memories of 9/11. I have memories of reacting to the various shootings and attacks that have occurred throughout our country, and in many others. The number of souls gathered this year was tremendous.
I have become more aware than ever about death itself, as a concept… or perhaps as a fact. I do not believe we are properly trained to deal with death, or to talk about it, and I view the grieving process as a beautiful, mysterious thing.
This year has made me thankful for all I have and for all of the lives of which I am a part. I do my best to take none of it for granted, for I see how delicate life is, and how easily the path of life is ended.
Be thankful, not just on holidays, for all of the gifts of life. But also, even in these times, be thankful for the knowledge of death. It has humbled me and allowed me to see through different eyes.
I am saddened by the losses experienced by all. However, this is not the end.
Happy, almost, New Year.