“The sole means now for the saving of the beings of the planet Earth would be to implant into their presences a new organ of such properties that every one of these unfortunates during the process of existence should constantly sense and be cognizant of the inevitability of his own death as well as the death of everyone upon whom his eyes or attention rests. Only such a sensation and such a cognizance can destroy the egoism that is now completely crystallized in them.” – G. I. Gurdjieff
“If You Knew” – Ellen Bass
What if you knew you’d be the last
to touch someone?
If you were taking tickets, for example,
at the theater, tearing them,
giving back the ragged stubs,
you might take care to touch that palm,
brush your fingertips
along the life line’s crease.
When a man pulls his wheeled suitcase
too slowly through the airport, when
the car in front of me doesn’t signal,
when the clerk at the pharmacy
won’t say Thank you, I don’t remember
they’re going to die.
A friend told me she’d been with her aunt.
They’d just had lunch and the waiter,
a young gay man with plum black eyes,
joked as he served the coffee, kissed
her aunt’s powdered cheek when they left.
Then they walked a half a block and her aunt
dropped dead on the sidewalk.
How close does the dragon’s spume
have to come? How wide does the crack
in heaven have to split?
What would people look like
if we could see them as they are,
soaked in honey, stung and swollen,
reckless, pinned against time?
“We all have to say goodbye to everything eventually. All of us are here only for the time being, tumbling along as we all are in the river of time, on our way to the endless ocean. We will each wake up one morning and realize that a whole period of our life—our youth, our career, our marriage, our health—is no longer what it was, and has passed. We are vulnerable—intrinsically vulnerable—to sickness, old age, and death. Nothing will save us from this, our common fate. However puffed out our chest may be, however booming that voice of ours, however many tall buildings or stocks we own, we too are exquisitely, excruciatingly exposed to the fact that, sooner or later, our place in this life will be cleared and we will be gone.
“When we remember this, something softens in us. Our judgments soften, our hurry slows down a little, our worries return to proportion. We breathe a little deeper and more meaningfully. After all, every one of us is in the same leaky old boat. Everyone we meet, everyone around us—the wise, the foolish, the saintly, the murderous—all of us alive today are heading together, in one great fellowship, toward the final waterfall—even as we argue or lash out at each other, care for each other, love each other, betray or reject each other, support or affirm each other—regardless of what it is we do or don’t do.
“This is why ours is an exquisite vulnerability. It is exquisite because it is so touching, so life-affirming, when we see through the shell of a person—our own or another’s—to the tender reality beneath. One of the women I pass in the café most mornings was in the local supermarket the other day. We had sometimes smiled in recognition, but never spoken. She always seemed busy and brisk to my eye; in charge of her day and what she was doing. When we bumped into each other in the supermarket I greeted her by saying how colorful she looked in her bright blue shirt. She said her husband had died recently, and it was the first day since then that she had felt a little alive. I am so sorry, I said. She burst into tears and clung to my shoulder, sobbing. The wave of her grief washed through and over me.
“I had had no idea.
“I would never have known.
“She was not in charge at all. She was just trying to do what she could to get through.”
– Roger Housden, adapted from his October 18, 2011 blog post—