The Gulf of Mexico oil spill has been a big news story these last few weeks, but the news reports have given little coverage to the fact that millions of sea creatures that will die. Our scuba experiences in the last couple of years have made us more conscious of the teeming life in the oceans, the unbelievable profusion, a cornucopia of bizarre, beautiful life. The loss of life now taking place is impossible to fully grasp, and painful to consider. I think it’s good, though, to try grasping it, and accept the pain of it.
We humans are generally deathophobes. At the same time, it’s obvious that death is a fundamental part of life. It’s in front, behind, and all around us, and avoiding it is really not possible. We may as well have a little courage and honesty and figure out how to think about it.
I keep coming back to the line by Wallace Stevens in his poem Sunday Morning: “Death is the mother of beauty.” When I first read it, I thought he was just being provocative, but I now see he was struggling with something profound. It isn’t that death itself is beautiful. But it is an integral part of the natural cycle of change, which is a defining characteristic of life. In Sunday Morning, Stevens asks, “Is there no change of death in paradise? Does ripe fruit never fall?” The Talking Heads got at the same idea with the funny line, “Heaven/ is a place/ where nothing/ ever happens.” Such a paradise would be inhuman. And very boring.
But coming to terms with this part of reality is not just a matter of working through the ideas. It’s also accepting some unpleasant feelings, like grief and sorrow. It seems natural to avoid such things, but it won’t work. Those feelings are integral to the human experience; they’ll always be there. We may as well face them with honesty and courage. Opening ourselves to those feelings makes us more human. It’s liberating.
Sally had a harsh and sad confrontation with one animal’s death this week. She was monitoring her blue bird boxes at the Lochmere golf course for new for baby blue birds, which is usually a cheering thing. She came upon a young Canada goose that had had a horrible accident that destroyed its beak and left it bloody and mutilated. It could still move, but was plainly suffering and unable to survive long. The poor thing needed to be euthanized, but there was no practical way to capture it without making matters worse. She had no confidence that the animal control service would be able to assist without increasing the animal’s fear and pain. There was no solution, other than nature itself.
Sally began to cry as she told the story, and continued to wonder whether there was something else she could have done. She is a tender-hearted soul, and I love her for it. I was reminded of the time years ago when she arrived home in tears at having run over a little frog as she was parking her car. I knew then, once again, that she was the girl for me.