“Ten Words about the Reality of Death and Living Dyingly, and the Dignity of the Dead”
The Haitian national anthem unapologetically glorifies heroic death, patriotic death with its famous and memorable line every student in Haiti proudly memorises in school and sings: “Mourir est beau,” “To die is beautiful.” Accordingly, the death that earns our tears and calls for our grief is the patriotic death; dying for one’s country is truly worth remembering and celebrating because it will ultimately contribute to human flourishing and the dignity of the country. “To die is beautiful” carries a sense of patriotic ritual and zeal, and a passion for sacrificial love and the unflinching commitment to love one’s country sacrificially. “Mourir est beau” is a story on its own, a written narrative that says a true patriot is willing to undertake the greatest human sacrifice: to die for one’s country and to risk dyingly for one’s ancestors.
However, there’s something special about reading words on printed pages and meditating critically and responsibly upon (the ethics of) words that have the potential to alter our values and our perception about life and death. We are changed by words and similarly, we readers and writers have the potential to modify the impact of language in our lives. Words that transform our vision of reality are words that we tolerate and embrace, and that happens (only when and if) we willingly surrender the sovereignty of our mind to the power and force of language. There has to be an intentional “let go” from our part and of our control if we want to experience the transformative change a novel, a play, or a poem can/may introduce to our lives. The individuals who have experienced the radical change and evolution of the mind through a book, whether a fiction or non-fiction, are those who have submitted the authority of their reason and psyche to the authority of the text and its author. Without this act of voluntary submission, the power of the text will be dull and null to the reader.
Reading Edwidge Danticat’s latest book, “The Art of Death: Writing the Final Story” (Graywolf Press, July 11, 2017), a moving tribute to and personal account of (their shared stories and memories) her mother living dyingly and dying with dignity, makes me realize how much I love my mother and how much I want to spend more time and quality time with her before she transitions to another and better world, where there is no grief, no death, no pain, no suffering, and where one’s life or existence does not expire, but continues to blossom. My mother is 71 years old, and for the past six to seven years, she has endured various medical complications; her health continues to deteriorate. Danticat has helped me to imagine life differently and to rethink about the importance of presence and time, and the significance of absence and fragmentation in the human experience. This book has had a tremendous psychological impact on my thought-process and drastically brought back to life the sweet memories I shared with my mother when I was a little boy and the memories we continue to create and archive as she continues to live meaningfully and optimistically. Below, I draw ten statements–that have left me with a mental scar–from Danticat’s emotional text about the reality of death and living dyingly, and the dignity of of the dead:
1.“There are websites devoted to memorializing the dead, virtual cemeteries where our life stories continue.”
2.“My mother has given birth to more women than me, and perhaps in her death she will breed even more.”
3.“When you’re young, your parents can seem immortal, then they get terminally ill and they remove the possibility of either you or them being immortal. When they die, you realize what it’s like to suddenly occupy an ambiguous space in the world.
4.“If both your parents, who are the people who created you, can die, then you too can die. With this in mind, you become acutely aware that we are all ‘living dyingly.’”
5.“We cannot write about death without writing about life…The act of writing, or talking about one’s death, makes one an active participant in one’s life.”
6.“Even when we are not writing about death, we are still writing about death. After all, death is always the eventual outcome, the final conclusion of every story.”
7.“We want to write not just of our mother’s deaths, but of their lives too and of the ways, beyond the obvious, that our lives and theirs were linked.”
8.“The final moment of death, especially when a prolonged illness is involved, is one of many deaths, anyway. Smaller deaths precede it, including, among other things, possibly one’s loss of autonomy and dignity.”
9.“The zombie’s inner spiritual geography has been erased by death, but the body is still forced to wander the earth. This is the kind of life and death nobody wants, a painfully eternally living death.”
10.“We are all bodies, but the dying body starts decaying right before our eyes.”