Saturday, July 17, 2010

Death and the web

Promissory Note
If I die before you
which is all but certain
then in the moment
before you will see mebecome someone dead
in a transformation
as quick as a shooting star’s
I will cross over into you
and ask you to carry
not only your own memories
but mine too until you
too lie down and erase usboth together into oblivion.
Galway Kinnell
Strong Is Your Hold


Cross-striped cabbageworms have devoured my Brussels sprouts, leaving shredded green skeletons in my garden. (Sister Barbara Mary awakes in the deep recesses of my memory--the stripped plants look like a mad painter's vision of Calvary Hill.)

We all kill unconsciously...all of us. I do not like to kill consciously, but I will when necessary. I pick off the worms and squish them, one by one. I squish the head first--I've no reason to prolong their pain. If the Brussels sprouts get to the point where's there's no longer any point, I will stop killing the worms.

I almost slaughtered a croaker yesterday, a frumpy but delicious fish found off our jetties here. Croakers "croak"--think Lauren Bacall at two octaves lower. (Well, OK, they sound nothing like Lauren Bacall, but no harm thinking about her anyway....)

My frumpy delicious fish kept croaking while I as unhooking it. The soft side of my brain tossed the chatty fish back in the drink.

Throwing away food is not a good survival strategy for any mammal. Throwing it away because a critter "chattered" at me is plain stupid. Still, it speaks to the power of language in humans. Our view of the universe can get trapped in words.


Our online lives, for most of us, are words and a few photos we slap up there. We share references and whittle away time, giggling at absurdities while blind to the obvious one:

We do not exist on the web.

It is not a public "space." It is not a town hall or a mall or a park.
It is a linked network of users and databases.

In life, people screw up. Big time. And if Carl happened to barf at a neighborhood block party because maybe he drank too much because his dog just died two days ago, well, it's messy and embarrassing, but it's not permanent. We know Carl. We know his history. It won't be mentioned again.

We forgive Carl's transgressions.

I made up Carl, of course, because once I mention Carl's behavior here, it becomes a permanent stain. There is no forgiving silence on the internet. Forgiveness is impossible because forgiveness is a human trait, part of the same soft-sided brain that released a croaker yesterday, or that pinches worms head-first.

In life, people die. Their daily words die with them. Their misdeeds are forgotten at the wake (unless they were truly dirty rotten scoundrels, and very few of us are).

You cannot be forgiven on the web because:

We do not exist on the web.

Databases cannot forgive. Networks cannot forgive. We are neither.


Each of us is mortal.
Each of us will die within a lifetime.
Each of us needs forgiveness.
Each of us exists on grace.

To survive death, to become part of the great life-sustaining detritus I walk on each day, that supports the Brussels sprouts and tomatoes and kale and beans thriving in my garden, I need impermanence.

Only through impermanence can I return to what I was, and am.

Poem by Galway Kinnell used without permission, though I will seek it.

The cartoon is by @tremendousnews on Twitter, no idea who s/he is--found here....
via a tweet by @Larryferlazzo, who also pointed out Herbert's column this morning: "Tweet Less, Kiss More".


Mike Martin said...

Cheer up is exciting and fun..what gets you up and moving may make others lay down and sleep. All life forms are unique and special... life will be so much better when we accept other for who they are!

doyle said...

Dear Mike,

I am pathologically cheerful! I enjoyed the sunset over Manhattan on 9/11 as I waited on Ellis Island for the wounded to arrive.

You do raise an interesting point, though--out of context of my other posts, perhaps this one will strike some as morbid. But it's not--there's joy in mortality.

And I agree all life forms are special--but I still like to eat.

Charlie Roy said...

@ Doyle
In an odd moment of watching "Pulp Fiction" one of the characters asks, "In a conversation do you listen or wait to talk?" I'm always curious as to the answer those of us in the blogosphere would give.

doyle said...

Dear Charlie,

I think you just got me right between the eyes. Phenomenal question--one I will use in class.

(And one I will ponder a long, long time....)