Sunday, June 04, 2006

Sickness unto life

 “By myself I cannot be free, nor can I be a consciousness or a man; and others whom I first sow as my rival is my rival only because he is myself. I discover myself in the other, just as I discover consciousness of life in consciousness of death, because I am from the start a mixture of life and death, solitude and communication, which is heeding to its resolution”.

 French philosopher Merleau Ponty wrote it. His transcendental sense overcomes the immanent tragedies of life and death. Consciousness of death is actually consciousness of life. With death the broader line of my personal history is blurred and ‘I’ am a burst of meanings.
We have seen how illness positions our death. The whole of our existence is thirsting for colours to break into it. He who knows the body, life knows death. And that is not at all; it is, pedagogically speaking, only the beginning. One must have the half of the story, the other side. For all interest in disease and death is only another expression of life.

Diseases, health, spirit, nature, are these contradictions? Are they problems? No, the recklessness of death is in life, it would not be life without it. An in the center is the position of Homo Dei, between recklessness and reason, between life and death. In this state he must live gallantly, associate in friendly reverence with him, for only he is aristocratic, and the counter positions are not at all. Man is the lord of all counter positions, they can be only through him, and thus he is more aristocratic than they. More so then is death, too aristocratic for death-that is the freedom of his mind. More aristocratic than life, too aristocratic for life, and that is the piety in his heart. We should not allow death to have mastery over our life, allowing anguish and allowing mastery over our thoughts are two different things. For therein lies goodness and love of mankind, and in nothing else. Death is a great power. One takes off ones hat before him, and goes weavingly on tiptoe. He weaves the stately ruff of the departure and we do him honour in solemn back. Reason stands simple before him, for reason is only virtue, while death is release, immensity, abandon, desires. Desire is lust not love. Death and love they actually don’t go together. Love stands oppose to death. It is love not reason that is stronger than death. Only love, not reason, gives sweet thoughts. And from love and sweetness alone form can come: form and civilization, friendly, enlightened beautiful intercourse-always in silent recognition of the blood sacrifice. It is embodied in Christ.

So we need to keep faith with death in our heart. Yet will remember that faith with death and dead is evil, is hostile to human kind, as soon as we give it power over thought and action. “For the sake of goodness and love, man shall let death have no sovereignty over his thoughts”.52 We never get away from life, even after death. Perhaps God may call our death, life. Sickness is in evitable as we are in time and space. They are the tragic elements with which our life is constituted. Heidegger is right when he called man, a being unto death or towards death. He also accepts resurrection in an immanent sense. So this sickness unto death should become sickness unto life. How is it possible, Roland Barthes has something to speak about this purple passage: “The first would permit me to say whom I love… to say whom one love is testify that they have not lived, and frequently suffered, for nothing… These lives, these sufferings are gathered up, pondered, justified”.

And yet what if it is for life’s sake that we must die? In truth we are not individuals; and it is because we think ourselves such that death seems unforgivable. We are temporary organs of the race, cells in the body of life, we die and drop away that life may remain young and strong. If we were to live forever, growth would be stifled and youth would find no room in the earth. Death, like style, is the removal rubbish, the excision of the superfluous. Through love we pass our vitalities on to a new form of us before the old form dies; through parent age we bridge the chasm of the generation, and elude the enmity of death. Here, even in the river’s flood, children are born; here, solitary in a tree, and surrounded by raging waters, a mother nurses her babe. In the midst of death life renews itself immortally.

So wisdom may come as the gift of the age, and seeing things in place, every part in its relation to the whole, may reach the perspective in which understanding pardons all. “If it is one test of theology to give life a meaning that shall frustrate death, wisdom will show that corruption comes only to the part that life itself deathless while we die”.

Three thousand years ago a man thought that man might fly; and so he built himself wings, and Icarus his son, trusting them and trying to fly, fell into the sea. Undaunted, life carried on the dreams. Thirty generations passed, and Leonardo Davinci, spirit made flesh, scratched across his drawings (drawings so beautiful that one catches ones breath with pain in seeing them) plans and calculations for a flying machine; and left in his norms a little phrase that, once heard, rings like a bell in the memory- ‘there shall be wings’ Leonardo failed and died; but life carried on the dream. Generation passed, and men said, man would never fly, for it was not the will of God. And then man flew. Life is that which can hold a purpose for three thousand years and never yield. The individual fails, but life succeeds. “The individual dies, but life, tireless and undiscourageable goes on, wondering, longing, planning, trying, mounting, attaining and longing.”55
Here is an old man on the bed of his death, harassed with helpless friends and wailing relatives. What a terrible sight it is-that thing frame with loosened and cracking flesh, this toothless mouth in a bloodless face, this tongue that cannot speak, this eyes that cannot see. To this pass youth has come, after all its hopes and trials, to this pass middle age, after all its torment and its toil. To this pass health and strength and joyous rivalry; this arm once struck great blows and fought for victory in virile games. To this pass knowledge, science, wisdom: for seventy years this man with pain and effort gathered knowledge, his brain became the store house of varied experience, the center of a thousand subtleties of thought and deed; his heart through suffering learned gentleness and his mind learned knowledge, seventy years he grew from an animal into a man capable of seeking truth and creating beauty. But death upon him, poisoning him, chocking him, congealing his blood, gripping his heart, and bursting his brain, ratting his throat. Death wins.
Outside on the green boughs birds twitter, and they sing hymns to the sun. Light streams across the fields; buds open and stalks confidently lift their heads; the sap mounts in the trees. Here are children: what is it that makes them so joyous, running madly over the dew-wet grass, laughing, calling, pursuing, alluding, and panting for breath, inexhaustible? What energy, what spirit and happiness! What do they care about death? They will learn and grow and love and struggle and create, and lift up one little notch, perhaps before they die. And when they pass they will cheat death with children, with parental care that will make their offspring finer than themselves. There in the garden twilight lovers pass, thinking themselves and seeing; their quiet mingle with murmur of insects calling to their mates; the ancient hunger speaks through eager and lowered eyes, and noble madness courses through clasped hands and touching lips. Life wins.
Love justifies our life and sufferings. Love is not reason but creation. Let us mind what Jesus said, “Unless a grain of wheat fall and die, it remains same.” 56It explains the life and its perils. We will go through decay and peril only to bear fruit.
There is always the possibility of far voyaging. Is their any security? There is the security of word as it should be, and as we all feel it could be, if it were governed by faith, hope, and love. We are ending this essay with a poem of Ceslaw Milosw, a great catholic poet of Holland. He won the Nobel Prize in 1980. This poem embodies the oldest dream of all, underlying our most primitive infant memories- that the universe not a charnel house but Godlike, and our Father’s. Since this dream is the mystical projection of a faith in being, of a hope for reality, and of a reciprocal love, the poem stands firmly as essay in archetypical forms, as a prediction of the deepest values, and as an anguished personal memory of an incinated culture. This poem, the most radiant and sacred of the sequence, is called ‘Recovery’; it must be remembered that it was written in the devastated landscape of Warsaw in 1943. The father speaks:
“ Here I am- why this senseless fear?
Soon now the day will come, and night will fade.
Listen: you can hear the shepherd’s horns, and their
Look how the stars pale, over a trace of red.
The path is straight, were almost to the clearing.
Down in the village first bell chimes,
And roosters on fences have started crowing.
The sleepy earth, fertile and happy, steams.
Here it still dark and you see fog pour.
In black swirls over the huckle berry knolls.
But dawn on bright slits wades in form the store.
And the bell of sun is ringing as rolls”.57


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