“The aircraft carrier getting bigger.”
It seems that only one in twenty is interested in knowing their time of death. Why do so many choose to ignore this inevitable possibility? What would change if one knew their specific date? There exists a popular opinion that life is rational and death is its rational conclusion. In other words, we die once our mission is accomplished.
(Beginning of the sermon): I am inclined to ask if babies who die in car collisions were on a mission to prove the necessity and limitations of a baby safety seat. Or if the several hundred thousand victims in Hiroshima and Nagasaki were all given the task of confirming the effectiveness of the two bombs tested by the US military. In reality, the vast majority of people die slowly, their life, ending without history—a story without an ending, sometimes with a morphine plunger at hand (end of the sermon).
Death is Discrete and Devious
Death can be discrete and devious, announcing itself at the last moment as never again. It manifests itself in the form of a smoker’s probability; an Empress in the announcement of a timetable or deadline. Death lurks in the shadows, leaping before you in a flash of lucidity, like the barrel of a gun pointed at your head; or witnessing the engine on an airplane’s wing burst into flames or the sudden break of the mountaineer’s rope. Death can also be cynical, especially when it announces itself as a fait accompli, as in Hiroshima—one of the seven wonders of twentieth-century horror. Or the Jewish Ghettos of Warsaw (Polanski explored such horrors in his film, The Pianist, and Spielberg, in Schindler’s List). One can further add to humankind’s horrific events, the massacre of the Armenians, the massacre in Rwanda and Cambodia, and the Great Purge (Great Terror) by Joseph Stalin (1936-1938).
The Last Moment
The death I’ve long dreaded is drowning. The body sinks into the liquid thickness, the light becomes more and more diffuse, the air is missing. I imagine myself floating, have turned into a disgusting corpse. Even worse! Being shot by mistake by a bike gang, then left abandoned in a barn—imagining that my body isn’t discovered until years later—my corpse only identifiable through DNA. Or seeing myself lose control of a car, my eyes glued to the spinning scenery, watching the obstacle against which my life is about to end, swell up in front of me. In such cases, I’d rather not know the outcome.
Another incidence of death came back to me. One, I wish I could forget. It involved the testimony of a young girl. It had made the headlines. She had miraculously survived her rape on the Jacques Cartier Bridge after her captors had first thrown her little brother over—killing him. The girl repeated his last words at the trial: “You’re going to kill me, aren’t you?” Even innocence can recognize the specter of death. Would he have wanted to know about his death beforehand, or that he’d become the object of someone’s perverse erotic nightmares—an event incomprehensible to him?
On the other hand, the cancer patient who, with their finger on the morphine plunger, curses the hypocritical oath of their immaculate shaman, would surely like to clarify their last moment. But if death seals the fate of our lives, we survive many comparable endings—these little last times, every day.
The Last Time
In some cases, the end can be planned, such as the last day of school or work. But the elderly woman only recalls her last love, her last union or her last kiss; reliving her last times in the lukewarm of her memory. Nothing in the impulse, the effort, the lips offered at that time, hint or reveal the scent of the end. Would these last moments have been different if they had been lived as such? Perhaps, knowing how to live a situation for the last time would make us live it differently. There are also those last times we wish for: the last drink, the last line, the last game. Any addict at some point wishes it’s their last time.
The Indian writer and philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti went further : if experiencing something for the last time changes the way of living and appreciating it, let us then reason this “to the limit”. I am going to die, so why not always live accordingly?Because the last fuck and the last day of high school do not have the same terminal character.
But by reasoning to the limit, we reveal the tendency or the principle at stake (having spurned the birth of differential calculus in mathematics). Krishnamurti doesn’t know better than anyone else what the last time will be, but he understands the lesson to be learned from it. You have to live like if it was the last time, as an everyday samurai, whose job it is to die to oneself.
Me, “The aircraft carrier’s getting bigger.”
Paul, “Yes, that’s what the kamikaze answers when the radio asks him how it’s going.”
Me, “For the last time, then.”
Paul, “Yes, but he chose it.”
A short exchange between Paul Saint-Amand and myself during a chess tournament. He had asked me what I was writing (this chronicle).