Full stop

Death is a declarative punctuation mark – a period in a life full of commas and semicolons. Death is a full stop, the end of opportunities for the deceased and those who knew them. Death is cruel like that.

~ Hugh Hollowell from, https://www.soverybeautiful.org/if-we-love-we-grieve/

I like the punctuation metaphor. I like the finality of the imagery. When I read that turn of phrase, I heard the sharp crack of a mechanical typewriter striking the period. I’m just not sure that the metaphor is apt for the experience of someone else’s death. That’s always been more like turning the page, midway through a book, and discovering the next face—and alas all the subsequent pages—are inexplicably blank. That’s not a period or an ellipses or even a highbrow em-dash. That’s just

ɕ

Our numbered days

Because we don’t exactly know how may days we’ll be alive, and because we try our hardest not to think about the fact that someday we’ll die, we’re pretty liberal with how freely we spend our time. We let people and obligations impose on that time, only rarely asking: What am I getting in return here?

~ Ryan Holiday

slip:4a1070.

Darkness must fall

For it’s always that way with the sacred value of life. We forget it as long as it belongs to us, and give it as little attention during the unconcerned hours of our life as we do the stars in the light of day. Darkness must fall before we are aware of the majesty of the stars above our heads.

~ Stefan Zweig

slip:4a1064.

Just traffic fatalities

Unlike chronic diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular disease, the “cure” for traffic fatalities will depend more on technology and policy than on medicine and health science. On the plus side, we as a society already have pretty clear evidence of effective strategies for improving the problem – e.g., stricter speed limit enforcement, restrictions on commercial and residential building along arterial roads, and mandates for safety features such as automatic emergency braking. On the minus side, we as individuals are very limited in our power to enact those strategies.

~ Peter Attia from, https://peterattiamd.com/the-epidemic-on-the-road/

The article is about traffic fatalities in the context of the COVID pandemic. I’m focusing simply on the fact that more than 40,000 people died in 2021 in traffic fatalities. Sure there are lots of causes, but you know what the single most easily implemented change is? Of course you do. Slow down. Me? You’ll find me doing about 5-over-the-limit on the highway (so people don’t literally shoot me) and usually a little below-the limit otherwise. Often with the cruise control set. How about you?

ɕ

Mortality

The essential power that confronting your mortality will give you—I call it the Sublime. Because it also opens up this idea of how amazing the world is that we live in, and how much we take for granted because we think that we’re going to live forever. It’s an incredibly important concept to me and it’s also very personal in the sense that I came this close to dying myself. I compare it to standing at the shore of some vast ocean. The fear of that dark ocean makes you turn away and retreat. I want you to get into your little boat and I want you to go into that ocean and explore it.

~ Robert Greene

slip:4a964.

Our relationship with death

We now live in a world where [our relationship with detah] is the complete opposite. We have to repress the very thought of it. We can’t see it anywhere. It’s put into hopitals where it’s sanitized, where it happens behind closed doors. Nobody ever talks about it. Nobody tells you this is probably the most important life skill that you could have—to know how to deal with that fear of mortality. Nobody teaches that. Your parents don’t talk about it. Your girlfriend or boyfriend—they don’t talk about it. Nobody. It’s a dirty little secret. But it’s the only reality we have. We’re all going to die.

~ Robert Greene

slip:4a956.

Guilt and efficacy

Accepting that “accidents happen” requires an acceptance of limitations to the control we have over our own lives. The philosopher Bernard Williams describes the hazy area between intention and outcome, where factors outside of one’s control can influence the course of events and our reactions to them: “anything that is the product of the will is surrounded and held up and partly formed by things that are not.” This thought may be unsettling, but constitutes the first step in letting go of guilt and moving forward along the path of healing, both for those who have caused unintentional harm and for any who are struggling with trauma.

~ Peter Attia from, https://peterattiamd.com/how-do-you-move-forward-after-making-a-fatal-mistake/

I am lucky in that I do not have any self-assigned guilt of the magnitude Attia is describing in this article. (I was pleasantly surprised by this article, it being different than his usual hard medical science.) But I do have a life-crushing pile of self-assigned, paper-cut-sized guilt for countless things I see in hindsight that I could have done better: Why didn’t I learn some particular lesson sooner? How did I not see that situation as it was developing? What if I had let go of that thing sooner? Perhaps you have occasion to ask similar questions.

I’ve verified that there’s nothing I can do to change the past. (Perhaps you’ve also.) But I have learned to tack faster: I flippantly made a silly tall joke—”how’s the weather up there?”—to a very tall friend as we passed at a busy event. As the day, and the next day, wore on I realized I was repeatedly thinking that had been inappropriate. The next time I saw him, I told him so, “dude, my joke was inappropriate and I apologize.” Radical honesty, as it’s sometimes called.

And for the things which end up one way, for reasons beyond my control, I deploy one, two, or all three of: 50,000 years from now, what difference will it make? Did I do everything within my power, (aka the dichotomy of control.) Memento mori.

ɕ

Embedded in a culture

Ray Liotta died on May 26, 2022. I wasn’t a particular fan of his, but he was definitely an actor who was a significant part of the culture I grew up in. There are many such people; actors of course, and also authors, musicians, journalists, teachers, scientists, politicians, military leaders, activists, and others less classifiable.

It’s one thing to think: That huge band that I love, which I’ve seen in concert… they’ve retired and hung up the act. Just knowing the people are still around however, means that something of, whatever it was that I loved, continues on in whatever it is, (public or not,) that they’re doing. Nostalgia rises up as people retire and things become, “remember when?”

But slowly, year by year, those people die and that makes it clear: Everything has its time, and that time ends. There but for the grace of God go I, is a beautiful turn of phrase.

ɕ