I’ve spent all week trying to track down what in the house stinks so bad. It just jumped up on the couch with me. Mr. “I roll in dead things!”
I was pondering my decision a few years ago to switch to wearing sneakers to the Southern Festival of Books and I realized after the Best of Nashville party last night, it’s because I have no dress shoes I can stand in for any length of time and not want to die.
This morning’s walk was, then, glorious. Put on normal shoes. Walk and feel everything that had been clenched slowly unclenching. Watch the dog find the very last remnants of the dead armadillo. Scream as he attempts to make one last roll in the carcass.
I think one of the reasons that death is so upsetting is that we do have, observably and obviously, some animating force, something that separates “alive” from “not alive.” But when you’re forced to look at dead things, the thing you realize is that the line isn’t all that clear. Certainly at this point, the armadillo is as dead as dead.
But what is that animating force? Is it just an illusion of firing nerves that dissipates when those nerves no longer fire? If so, is that why we can luck out and sometimes restart life when it seems to have ended? Is this why people’s personalities can change so much due to stress or accident or medical incident, because, ultimately, there is no core person there, just this hallucination of consciousness?
But if we are just a storm of electrical impulses, why? Certainly, a lot of this stuff would be easier if hearts never broke, if you never felt compelled to give a shit. The person who doesn’t suffer must have an evolutionary advantage over those of us who cry a lot. And yet, the criers have won, have persisted the most. Judging by our numbers, there must be some advantage to being aware, even if being aware is being sad. At least some of the time.
The thing is that it’s not really that clear, just based on observation, when life ends. Not that I’ve seen it intimately that often, but, with Sadie, the moment after she died was a lot clearer than the moment she died. Death, it seems, is something you can’t say for sure has happened until it’s already a little bit in the past. It must, then, be a thin line, one you don’t see so much as you see its wake. So to speak.
One minute, no, second, things are working–even if incredibly poorly–and then they are not. One minute your body is fighting off rot and the next it’s not.
I don’t really know where I’m going with this. I just look at that armadillo every morning and it blows my mind to have watched it go from something that looked no different than a live armadillo to now a claw and the curve of its armor. And on the one hand “how” is a simple question. Crows and buzzards. But on the other hand, I have no good answer. Nothing satisfying anyway.
I felt the same when our cats died… the moment after, when the cat was *gone*, was obvious. That body was a shell. The death itself snuck past us.
There is a novel by Peter Watts called Blindsight that posits, among other things, that sentience is an evolutionary glitch, and not the pinnacle. (Also, there are space vampires, and they are terrifying.)
Patterns don’t dissipate into the environment all at the same rate. And we are all of us patterns. Many, many patterns.