Saturday, June 16, 2012

O Death

I'm in between New Haven and where I'm headed right now. I left home about an hour and a half ago, but we're stopped for a few hours while we wait out a passing swarm of zombies. They aren't close, can't see or hear us, but they're moving across a bridge we have to use so I've got nothing to do but write at the moment. I'm just glad we've got batteries for the cell transmitter so I don't have to try cranking the thing's generator in this heat.

Something happened back home yesterday that got me thinking. If you aren't a fan of my occasional philosophical posts, you can skip this one if you like. It's that kind of morning.

One of our guards died on the wall early yesterday morning. He was killed by zombies, but it wasn't an attack. The guard--Tim--had Othostatic Hypotension. It's basically a condition that causes blood pressure to drop, and in rare cases can cause Vasovagal Syncope, a very specific kind of fainting. Tim was a rare bird in many ways: having OH in the first place at his age (his thirties) and having a very, very rare symptom along with it. He knew about this problem, but he tried to be super careful about the onset of symptoms.

In life, no one ever manages a perfect score. For some people, that means game over when the mistake comes at the wrong time.

Tim passed out and fell right over the wall. The undead were on him in less than a minute. There was nothing anyone could do to save him. After the first few bites, one of the sentries ran close and put a few arrows in him. It was, I'm told, the most merciful gift for him.

The sheer randomness of it made my mind spin and twirl the concept of death around for hours. I couldn't stop focusing on it, looking at it from different angles.

Death is the ultimate mystery, right? Or it used to be. Some folks used to romanticize it in one way or another--sometimes through literature, or maybe television or movies. We've seen death happen so often and on such scale since The Fall that it's possible the event has lost some of its sharp edges for us.

I've realized some truths that can't be ignored. Death is ugly. It's unpleasant. It's a terrible thing, yet as much as we hate it conceptually, we don't hesitate to deal it out when we need to. Sometimes when we don't. It can have meaning, can grant gifts to those left alive. I'm thinking of Mason here, and his last hurrah out in the sandy southwest, fighting off the zombies approaching our camp with his bare hands. Mason knew he was dying already, and he didn't go with a whimper. He fought and died with as much bravery as he lived with, and shouted with a lion's roar right to his last breath.

Does that make his passing any better than Tim's? No. No, I don't think so. Sure, there are good ways to go out (I always imagined my own death happening during vigorous sex with identical busty redheaded twins, but I doubt that's really an option anymore. Oh, not because the zombie apocalypse happened. No. Because I got married), but the more I think about it, the more I realize we simply attach too much other meaning to the act. All of us will die, probably a lot sooner than we thought before the world fell apart. Many philosophers have said that the important thing is how you live, and I agree.

My mom died in that fire. It was an accident, it was stupid, and instead of trying to repair the damage her loss did to me and others, I lost my shit completely. Death is many, many things. Random, brave, dumb, cowardly, romantic, beautiful, grotesque, meaningful, pointless. Like everything else in our lives, it depends completely on context. It could come for us at any time, for any reason or none.

I guess that's why I feel so strongly that every day should be an effort to better ourselves. To live according to principles we define for ourselves as being good or positive. A bald eagle could fall from the sky and break my neck in ten minutes, which would be idiotic and pointless. But if there's an afterlife (or at least a few fleeting moments of consciousness before I Move On) I would want to look back at that moment of change and say, "Well, how I went was completely moronic, but why I was in that place at that time was good. I was on my way to do the right thing."

We fail. In the end, we all fail. Death isn't the failure, of course. We try to be good, and at times we widely miss the mark. We fuck up royally, give in to our tempers, lash out when we don't mean to. We're shitty with people or reluctant to put forth an effort when we're needed. We fail in as many ways as there are to describe it. Maybe more, since I'm kind of bad at math.

Any moment could be our last. Yeah, it's trite and definitely something you've heard at every funeral you've ever been to, but that doesn't make it any less true. Before The Fall, it could have been a car crash, food poisoning, or any number of factors that are much less likely now. Post-fall, it's probably going to be a zombie or something violent. The how just isn't important to me anymore. The why even less so.

The end of the line for all of us is the same. We'll die. The length of the trip will vary, but it's far more important to worry about how we spend the journey.

Like I said, just some thoughts.

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