Looking for a good book to read in order to distract myself from the discomfort of existence, I came across this article, “7 of the best books to read before you die.”
I’ve seen these articles before. “The top ten places to visit before you die.” “Fifty great films to see before you die.”
It struck me that the words “before you die” under these circumstances might be somewhat superfluous. I would be intrigued by an article entitled “7 of the best books to read after you die.”
Titles might include “What Was All That About?” “Letting Go of Past Lives.” “Bardo for Beginners.”
Perhaps these words are simply a helpful reminder that we will indeed, die, and therefore any activities that we wish to undertake must precede this unpredictable event. In which case they are not entirely superfluous – they communicate a sense of urgency, a feeling that life must be lived now.
What are we to do in the face of this slow emergency?
What happens in that strange indefinable period of time between birth and death, where the only thing that is certain is that it must end?
The modern world offers a bewildering choice of ways we could spend our time. This is where lists could be potentially helpful. However the drawback is that they might suggest a discrimination between the meaningful and the mundane.
Navigating a period of extreme grief in which simple tasks are often all I can manage, the feeling of the breeze across my face in the morning often the highlight of my day, this idea makes me sad. Is a life without adventure a waste of time? Must we continually extend ourselves in order to experience depth? Is there a case for just being?
When I was at school we did a lesson involving woodlice. This stuck in my mind because living in a damp old house woodlice were pretty frequent guests. I also liked the word “exoskeleton” and the way this protected them even if you dropped them on the floor.
We put these creatures into what was referred to as a “choice chamber.” There was a dry section and a damp section. And then a control, which had nothing in it at all.
Maybe the control section is like just being. Protecting us from overwhelm. Without that we don’t really have a choice because we just get buffeted from desire to aversion and back. The emptiness of the control provides us with the clarity to discover what kind of louse we really are. Emptiness may not be entirely comfortable, but at least it’s honest.
7 Things To Do Before You Die:
Look at a blackbird
Look at its shiny eye
The way it jerks its head from side to side
And bounces and sings
A tiny clown
Visit the corner shop
Speak to the people there
See the grooves in that man’s face
The way he walks
His cheerful manner
His expression when he thinks no one is watching
Smell the air on an autumn night
Smoky and crystalline
Damp moss and crisp leaves
Bringing in hallowe’en
And the yawn of winter
Touch the fur on a cat’s back
Soothe your fingers with its greasy softness
Feel its sinuous spine
Curling against your hand
Listen to the laughter of an old friend
The familiar chimes of a shared history
Warmth and love
Taste water in a state of thirst
A primal quenching that has no equal
Lay down on the ground under a summer sky
Touch its vastness
Air on skin
Know that you are all of these things and more
Ephemeral as dust
Blessed to breathe breath
Even in a crisis
Such as life is