As we move toward the best season of the year, Emily’s birthday on December 10th, the news is good. Ford in his Flivver and all is right with the world. The Saints are 9 and 3. Last night, Patrick Robinson flew like a bat out of hell to block that field goal attempt by the Lions. A thing of beauty. I’m happy with where we are at the moment. Although the Titans could give us some trouble next week.
Despite the cheery season, Emily returns to her favorite subject.
#976, c. 1864
Death is a Dialogue between
The Spirit and the Dust.
“Dissolve” says Death — The Spirit “Sir
I have another Trust” —
Death doubts it — Argues from the Ground —
The Spirit turns away
Just laying off for evidence
An Overcoat of Clay.
Here Death is the argument between the matter of the earth and the ghost in the machine. Death gets to say something, but Death owes its existence to the tension between the physical outcome of organic degeneration and our imagination’s stubborn refusal to give in to that. So much spirit talk is born out of sheer obstinacy.
My focus goes to the line where she characterizes Death as a dialogue, not an entity, although Death does assume form and speech in the poem. Death is a conversational exchange. It takes two to create Death. An essential split in our nature is where Death emerges as a character with something to say. Without that duality within ourselves, we don’t have anything to talk about. Or rather we have no one to talk to . . . No dialogue, no Death. Only changing form. Skin, hair, bones, teeth, dust, mud . . . fertilizer. And then some other form.
My own conversation with Death has been lively off and on since I was fourteen years old, both as a theoretical concept and as a more brute consideration. This past September is a good example. If you want my advice, don’t get cancer. It puts a damper on things.
All right, I’m being glib. That’s how we roll in my tribe, especially when considering Death. The way to get through life with any dignity is to act the fool. Afraid of Death? Grab him by the throat and crack wise. You’ll never make a friend of Death. But do make him your straight man.
For the record: I’m not dying. Not yet, at least. But I had an interesting brush with malignant melanoma. A bad mole on my left arm. The good news is that we found it at an early stage, so the surgeon removed it all in one swoop, along with a large portion of my skin. No need for further treatment, no chemo or sentinel node biopsy. I will have to be on high-alert for other bad moles, but for now I am in the clear.
Those are the clinical facts, over and done with in the space of a month. The waves that move out from those facts continue to roll up against my thoughts, and I expect will do so for the rest of my life, which I hope will be a long one. My sister who is a survivor of stage III breast cancer has talked about “the gift of cancer.” My friend Shaun who is also a melanoma survivor used the same phrase. They were talking about cancer as a great awakener. That it clarified how they had been neglecting some essential part of themselves. They said cancer gave them the power to love their own lives and act accordingly.
So I have been looking for the gift of cancer in my medical adventure. It’s here. What great material. I can run my engine on this for a long while. And I’m not done yet. Not by any means.
2 responses to “Between Spirit and Dust”
I’m glad to know that you are all right. We’ve both had cancer scares and biopsies – it does change one’s perspective…
Good morning Barbara — good to hear from you as always. And I’m also happy to know that you’re all right. When I told my friend (another survivor) about this, she said, “Welcome to the club.” There is a quick and deep, unspoken kinship among us who have faced cancer that does make it a little less terrifying. Thanks for checking in.