[Photo (untitled, as far as I know) by Vivian Maier.]
From whiskey river:
Writing in the Afterlife
I imagined the atmosphere would be clear,
shot with pristine light,
not this sulphurous haze,
the air ionized as before a thunderstorm.
Many have pictured a river here,
but no one mentioned all the boats,
their benches crowded with naked passengers,
each bent over a writing tablet.
I knew I would not always be a child
with a model train and a model tunnel,
and I knew I would not live forever,
jumping all day through the hoop of myself.
I had heard about the journey to the other side
and the clink of the final coin
in the leather purse of the man holding the oar,
but how could anyone have guessed
that as soon as we arrived
we would be asked to describe this place
and to include as much detail as possible—
not just the water, he insists,
rather the oily, fathomless, rat-happy water,
not simply the shackles, but the rusty,
iron, ankle-shredding shackles—
and that our next assignment would be
to jot down, off the tops of our heads,
our thoughts and feelings about being dead,
not really an assignment,
the man rotating the oar keeps telling us—
think of it more as an exercise, he groans,
think of writing as a process,
a never-ending, infernal process,
and now the boats have become jammed together,
bow against stern, stern locked to bow,
and not a thing is moving, only our diligent pens.
(Billy Collins [source])
At every moment, behind the most efficient seeming adult exterior, the whole world of the person’s childhood is being carefully held like a glass of water bulging above the brim. And in fact, that child is the only real thing in them. It’s their humanity, their real individuality, the one that can’t understand why it was born and that knows it will have to die, in no matter how crowded a place, quite on its own. That’s the carrier of all the living qualities. It’s the center of all the possible magic and revelation.
(Ted Hughes [source, p. 513])
And that’s how we measure out our real respect for people — by the degree of feeling they can register, the voltage of life they can carry and tolerate — and enjoy. End of sermon. As Buddha says: live like a mighty river. And as the old Greeks said: live as though all your ancestors were living again through you.
(Ted Hughes [source, p. 514])
I interviewed a woman who is terminally ill. So I tried to delicately ask, “What is it like to wake up every morning and know that you are dying?” “Well,” she responded, “What is it like to wake up every morning and pretend that you are not?”
(Marc Chernoff [ascribed; source])