I have been thinking about the death of things recently. Over the last few months living in Lisbon, I feel like I’ve encountered many types of death in my immediate vicinity, mostly of animals of different types and variations.
I saw a suffering seagull behind barbed wire fence A mawga horse, bones poking through skin two gnarly dogs tied near a basement a dog, rabid and skin shawn, head stuck in a plastic bag scrounging for food a few birds across the pavement and, most recently a fly, stuck in my forest green blanket between the pile of pens left to write this piece.
There have been so many glazed eyes of death surrounding me and I realise it’s not something I’m accustomed to. Death sprawled out on display like this, it’s usually hidden and polite – civilized.
I like this poem by Mary Oliver, Summer Morning. When I read it, I imagine Oliver speaking about the small deaths that happen continually in our lives and that I’ve seen manifested in the landscape around me for the last few months.
The call from Oliver to ‘let the world/ have its way with you/ wondrous as it is’, feels like her desire to draw us into life, rather than recoiling away from it. A space where we can revel in the questions life often leaves us with.
Immediately when I think of questions I think of Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet where he implores us:
‘…be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.’
I’ve been leaning back on these lines from Rilke and the poem from Oliver for the last few months as a lifeline of sorts. They give an open space of freedom to relax into the mysteries and uncertainties that life unfolds before us. They teach me to lean into the mystery with curiosity. So now I’m becoming fascinated with the cycles of death, renewal and change that surround us.
Daily, I encounter death in its politest form, a cemetery that sprawls wide open outside my window. It’s a morbid joy to witness the tops of mausoleum each day and see the fluttering life of birds weaving in between these stately houses for the deceased.
This graveyard, ironically in my opinion entitled ‘Prazeres’ which means Pleasures in Portuguese, feels like its playing a gentle game with me each day. Expanding my perspective of pleasure and desire and forcing me to imagine what life might be like at the end of desire, at the end of all questions, at the end of certainty.
In all of this, I’m beginning to realise that life can only ever be lived in the knowledge and presence of many deaths. The death of love, the death of youth, the death of relationships, the death of desire. But at the same time as this reality, we live in the reality that there are new opportunities which spark forth each moment ready to be taken hold of if we’re willing.
Where do we go from here?
So now, my implore to you, is to live into the questions that the end of life can bring and write a little with me.
Write about some of the death cycles you’ve experienced recently.
It could be as poignant as the grief of a loved one, or as simple as loss of hair down the shower drain, or the end of a summer love.
What does this loss feel like to you? How do you want to remember it?
Spend as long as you’re comfortable to do so here.
Now, to end on a point of joy.
If for Mary Oliver, it’s morning, with pink hills and the opening of flowers in the sun that turns her heart from the dark,
What are these light and joyful things you can grab hold of right now?
Write about those for a moment
What do they look like? How do they feel? How does it make you feel?
and hold them for as long as you have chance to.