I recently heard about the death of a friend. The news made me feel loss and sadness, and I spent some time in silence. Death is part of life, but I felt the loss, and the reality, that I would never see this friend again.
I thought of all the people close to me who had passed. It was like mentally watching a parade as they passed by and I smiled at each, holding back the tears.
Gato Barbieri’s “Europa” was playing on the radio. That was Ramah’s song. Ramah was our purebred pit bull who came along on our outings. When she died over 10 years ago, I was holding her in my arms as she gave out her last goodbye cry, and “Europa” was playing on the radio. Since then, “Europa” has been “Ramah’s Song,” her goodbye rite-of-passage song. I think of Ramah when I hear “Europa,” and I think of death and the seeming impermanence of life.
It is time for work so I drive away with the radio off. I want to listen to the silence. I arouse a Cooper’s hawk as I go down the long driveway and he swoops away under the oaks with a pocket gopher in his claws — more death.
I think about the gopher, which devours my root crops, and I feel no sadness. Still, I shudder to think that he’ll be ripped apart and eaten while still alive. Is that good? Is it bad?
A local Sierra Club hiker wrote about his chance encounter with a mountain lion killing a deer. He said he could have interrupted it, but he didn’t. Instead, he watched it. He said it was beautiful. He said it was part of the beauty of nature.
Beauty? Certainly the kill is part of nature, part of The Way: eat or be eaten. But beautiful? The deer would have had its throat slit from behind and, while it struggled, the lion would have ripped open his underside and begun eating the deer while it was still alive. Let’s not kid ourselves. There is much in “nature” that is not beautiful. It is part of The Way, but it’s not beautiful. Death is sobering.
Death is not beautiful. To the dead, I presume it is peaceful. To the living, it is painful, especially when a close one goes and you experience their absence and the pain of separation. You’re forced to acknowledge the temporary nature of life. You’re forced to make each moment count, to make each moment matter.
Off to work. I must think about the immediate now, the temporary world of time clocks and responsibility and bills and rent and taxes. I am only mildly cheered up by telling myself this is only temporary.
I sip my coffee at a downtown cafe in the dense fog of the early morning before my work begins. The fog drifts and flows, like the drifting landscape of my thoughts of life and death and work and bills.
Death is everywhere. It is inescapable. And yet it is perhaps our blessing. It is the sobering element that forces us to reconsider everything and to strive to do the right thing in each moment. Death forces us to think beyond just our own interests, and it forces us to think about what is best for the most people, and what is best for the next generation.
Christopher Nyerges is the author of “Til Death Do Us Part?,” available on Kindle and at ChristopherNyerges.com. Nyerges also teaches outdoor classes and shares a weekly podcast at Preparedness Radio Network.