The gentle and death and loss and identity


Michael Stuart Kelly

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The gentle and death and loss and identity

In another thread on music, Barbara made a request to open a new thread on a tangential discussion that cropped up. So here it is, starting with three pertinent posts that are self-explanatory.

Michael:

"I have seen people of two bents when thinking about the death of others:

"1. Those who lament the death of any human life, and

2. Those who rejoice in the death of humans who are not like them.

"These are not black and white positions, but instead emotional starting points. So you get a mix more often than not, but if you pay attention, you can discern which part is more fundamental in any one individual. People constantly gives themselves away.

"The attitude a person has toward a prisoner executed under capital punishment is a good example. A person of the first bent might agree with the justice of it and endorse that particular punishment in that particular case, but he would treat it as an unpleasant form of payment enforced to keep the rules of society in place, especially the ones covering heinous crimes. Underneath he would feel a tinge of sadness and the execution of the prisoner would not be a good day for him. A person of the second bent would have a party and engage in a lot of mocking. The more contained will not make a big issue out of it, but if pressed for an opinion, they will say things like, 'Good. Now there is one less piece of shit walking the earth.'"

Excellent observation, Michael. I'm not certain, however, that very young people -- say, under twenty -- who seem to rejoice in the death of those they consider evil, can be judged as negatively as we would judge adults in this regard. Death seems to have little reality to the young; and usually, as they mature and perhaps encounter death, their reaction alters and becomes more like those you describe as "those who lament the death of any human life."

Barbara

Ah, Barbara...ever astute.

Sure, what you say there. I guess I look fondly back on the days where I had the luxury of taking mortality so lightly.

The folly of youth, and all...

I was talking to my dad a while back (he's in his eighties). He is a vet of the Pacific theater, the S.S. LLoyd. For years, he went to the reunions...I don't know how it all came together, but I think I was asking him what was the hardest about getting old, and he said it was losing people around you. I think on the Lloyd it's down to like 3 guys now. Depressing.

Rand's sense of life surely didn't allow for celebrating death at all, maybe even scoundrels. If they did misdeeds, that was unfortunate. But I have never found a way to properly celebrate death...it always turns on you one way or another.

I wish bad people would just go away, but I never wish death on them. Well, not too often these days, anyhow...

r

Rich: "I was asking him what was the hardest about getting old, and he said it was losing people around you."

Rich, I once was talking with a woman well into her nineties, and she was commenting on the death of her last childhood friend,. She said, very sadly, "Now, there is no one left with whom I share memories of my youth." I am very fortunate in that I still have a number of friends whom I've known since childhood, but their ranks are thinning and those that remain are very precious to me; we have regular reunions, which are an enormous source of pleasure for us all. It is especially childhood friends that give one a sense of the continuity of one's life -- that who we were at 5 years old, at 15, at 21 and 41 and 79, is, at core, who we still are.

I'd be interested to know if others who read this share my conviction of this continuity of one's basic identity. (Michael, if readers want to comment, perhaps this should be a separate thread.)

Barbara

Dylan Thomas wrote the following poem in 1952 (the year I was born).

Do not go gentle into that good night

Do not go gentle into that good night,

Old age should burn and rave at close of day;

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,

Because their words had forked no lightning they

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright

Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,

And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight

Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,

Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

If you wish to hear Dylan Thomas himself recite this poem, click on the link below:

Do not go gentle into that good night

What is most curious is that Thomas's rendition is very gentle, especially at the end of the poem.

And this leads me to the point Barbara was making. When you contemplate the "continuity of one's basic identity" among the gradual loss of friends and dear ones as age advances, is there any way to do it right other than gently?

Maybe one should "not go gentle into that good night," but one can surely cherish gentle while there still is the light.

Michael

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Well, Hell, I'm swimming in this sea right now, again.

A few years ago I got encouraged by MSK and others to write an essay, which ended up being called "Mortality and the Rituals of Infinity." It came from a lot of bandying about here, other O-sites, it was right at the time OL itself formed. MSK ended up doing the edits on it, and his work was great--it was the first time I ever used an editor. Initially, this piece was supposed to go over at a site called www.wethethinking.com . I don't recall fully, but there was a thing where we were deciding whether or not it could exist there and on OL...things were very much in flux back then, and it very much speaks to OL, MSK, Kat, because were it not for them, there would truly be no safe haven for writers, at least ones like me.

Without this place, you'd be down to trying to post under guidelines/auspices/moderation that either smells like a goddamn coffin, or a pig wallow.

There are some just fantastic writers that have been doing the hang thing as far as posting in O-world. Real characters. Real intense. Sometimes you get newer to the scene ones that really knock you out.

That was a digression, but I've said it before and I don't mind saying it over again, to remind.

What does all that have to do with death? Well, pretty much all I've got aside from what I've already written and read is that you better treat people most excellently, or you will feel like a real tool if they die.

This can get stretchy. It challenges a man's adherence to his values. It means, for instance, that if I believe that, I have to A: try, try, try to be nice to people I find obnoxious and annoying (oh, let's just say Lindsey Perigo), and, maybe more importantly, actually suck it up enough to feel something if they expire, or, for that matter, encounter some mortal trauma.

Sometimes, this is not easy. I used to think it is, in general, not meant to be in such matters if you have to force yourself. But I don't think that anymore. I think that kind of self-imposed requirement has something to do with the soul of humanity.

So, the two types of people. Yeah. I'd rather be able to feel the loss, even if I have to talk myself into it a little bit: remind myself of my own premise.

Why?

Well, simply because I don't like the alternative--it would be a sucky way to live. That sense of life (or lack of it, in my eyes) would be miserable. I just can't celebrate a death. I can find it, on occasion, just, needed, but still there is a sadness to that--even in the most extreme cases.

It's a choice. I just can't see that kind of celebratory dance being any more than a hollow victory.

That's all I have right now. Basically, watch it: the regret department is watching you, and you won't like it when they put you on report.

Yuck,

rde

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So, the two types of people. Yeah. I'd rather be able to feel the loss, even if I have to talk myself into it a little bit: remind myself of my own premise.

Why?

Well, simply because I don't like the alternative--it would be a sucky way to live. That sense of life (or lack of it, in my eyes) would be miserable. I just can't celebrate a death.

Rich,

This expressed perfectly how I feel.

I'm not so sure this issue entails what Rand meant by a "death premise," but it sure sounds like a death premise to me.

Michael

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The gentle and death and loss and identity

In another thread on music, Barbara made a request to open a new thread on a tangential discussion that cropped up. So here it is, starting with three pertinent posts that are self-explanatory.

Michael:

"I have seen people of two bents when thinking about the death of others:

"1. Those who lament the death of any human life, and

2. Those who rejoice in the death of humans who are not like them.

"These are not black and white positions, but instead emotional starting points. So you get a mix more often than not, but if you pay attention, you can discern which part is more fundamental in any one individual. People constantly gives themselves away.

"The attitude a person has toward a prisoner executed under capital punishment is a good example. A person of the first bent might agree with the justice of it and endorse that particular punishment in that particular case, but he would treat it as an unpleasant form of payment enforced to keep the rules of society in place, especially the ones covering heinous crimes. Underneath he would feel a tinge of sadness and the execution of the prisoner would not be a good day for him. A person of the second bent would have a party and engage in a lot of mocking. The more contained will not make a big issue out of it, but if pressed for an opinion, they will say things like, 'Good. Now there is one less piece of shit walking the earth.'"

Excellent observation, Michael. I'm not certain, however, that very young people -- say, under twenty -- who seem to rejoice in the death of those they consider evil, can be judged as negatively as we would judge adults in this regard. Death seems to have little reality to the young; and usually, as they mature and perhaps encounter death, their reaction alters and becomes more like those you describe as "those who lament the death of any human life."

Barbara

Ah, Barbara...ever astute.

Sure, what you say there. I guess I look fondly back on the days where I had the luxury of taking mortality so lightly.

The folly of youth, and all...

I was talking to my dad a while back (he's in his eighties). He is a vet of the Pacific theater, the S.S. LLoyd. For years, he went to the reunions...I don't know how it all came together, but I think I was asking him what was the hardest about getting old, and he said it was losing people around you. I think on the Lloyd it's down to like 3 guys now. Depressing.

Rand's sense of life surely didn't allow for celebrating death at all, maybe even scoundrels. If they did misdeeds, that was unfortunate. But I have never found a way to properly celebrate death...it always turns on you one way or another.

I wish bad people would just go away, but I never wish death on them. Well, not too often these days, anyhow...

r

Rich: "I was asking him what was the hardest about getting old, and he said it was losing people around you."

Rich, I once was talking with a woman well into her nineties, and she was commenting on the death of her last childhood friend,. She said, very sadly, "Now, there is no one left with whom I share memories of my youth." I am very fortunate in that I still have a number of friends whom I've known since childhood, but their ranks are thinning and those that remain are very precious to me; we have regular reunions, which are an enormous source of pleasure for us all. It is especially childhood friends that give one a sense of the continuity of one's life -- that who we were at 5 years old, at 15, at 21 and 41 and 79, is, at core, who we still are.

I'd be interested to know if others who read this share my conviction of this continuity of one's basic identity. (Michael, if readers want to comment, perhaps this should be a separate thread.)

Barbara

Dylan Thomas wrote the following poem in 1952 (the year I was born).

Do not go gentle into that good night

Do not go gentle into that good night,

Old age should burn and rave at close of day;

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,

Because their words had forked no lightning they

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright

Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,

And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight

Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,

Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

If you wish to hear Dylan Thomas himself recite this poem, click on the link below:

Do not go gentle into that good night

What is most curious is that Thomas's rendition is very gentle, especially at the end of the poem.

And this leads me to the point Barbara was making. When you contemplate the "continuity of one's basic identity" among the gradual loss of friends and dear ones as age advances, is there any way to do it right other than gently?

Maybe one should "not go gentle into that good night," but one can surely cherish gentle while there still is the light.

Michael

This takes me back to a trip to the British Isles when I was 13. We were staying in Hastings on the Southern coast of England for a week and we discovered this delightful little coffee shop called Il Boccalino. They had a wonderful impresario who quadrupled as a waiter, singer, poetry reader and bouncer. We kept coming back every night because of the great food and the terrific Dylan Thomas reading. A Child's Christmas in Wales is a staple in our family.

One of the greatest gifts my father gave me was his serenity in facing ill health and death at 34. I can remember him playing harmonica in an airport in Cordoba, Argentina cheering everyone else up as he was readied for a commercial flight back to Miami for a surgery he would never make it out of. As Randy Pausch would say we play with the cards we're dealt and its how you play the hand.

I've lost a grandmother and uncle in the last 15 months, but the music and family we always have at family get togethers, even and especially funerals gives a sense of continuity and I get to see all of the children my cousins are having.

Jim

Jim

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Interesting discussion:

I know some folks and have read about an almost obscene bonding of a sniper who is about to squeeze the trigger knowing that he will be taking the life of the face in his scope.

I also cannot celebrate a death, but I felt no sorrow when both of Saddam's son's assumed room temperature.

This is an obscure poet, but I prior lover of mine performed this in the oral interpretation class I sat in on that was being taught by my colleague.

If I could only live at the pitch that is near madness

If I could only live at the pitch that is near madness

When everything is as it was in my childhood

Violent, vivid, and of infinite possibility:

That the sun and the moon broke over my head.

Then I cast time out of the trees and fields,

Then I stood immaculate in the Ego;

Then I eyed the world with all delight,

Reality was the perfection of my sight.

And time has big handles on the hands,

Fields and trees a way of being themselves.

I saw battalions of the race of mankind

Standing stolid, demanding a moral answer.

I gave the moral answer and I died

And into a realm of complexity came

Where nothing is possible but necessity

And the truth wailing there like a red babe.

Richard Eberhardt

Never been real happy about the last stanza.

Adam

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This is the dad-blamed essay--MSK had to remind me how to search stuff down over here...

http://www.objectivistliving.com/forums/in...?showtopic=1582

There was another edit of it after this one, I forget who died that time. Stupid thing is sitting on a dead hard drive.

r

Looking forward (not) to the new edit, after he gets done with the eulogy writing job.

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Jim: "One of the greatest gifts my father gave me was his serenity in facing ill health and death at 34."

My mother, too, faced certain death with serenity -- and I often have referred to it as "one of the greatest gifts she gave me." I'm not sure I fully understand her attitude, or that I could match it, but witnessing her quiet heroism was more inspiring to me than if she had conquered armies.

Adam-- what a beautiful poem. But I, too, am not happy with the last stanza. It's true that as an adult one enters "a realm of complexity" undreamed of in childhood, but it's not true that that must destroy one's early passion.

Rich, I loved what you wrote:

"What does all that have to do with death? Well, pretty much all I've got aside from what I've already written and read is that you better treat people most excellently, or you will feel like a real tool if they die.

"This can get stretchy. It challenges a man's adherence to his values. It means, for instance, that if I believe that, I have to A: try, try, try to be nice to people I find obnoxious and annoying (oh, let's just say Lindsey Perigo), and, maybe more importantly, actually suck it up enough to feel something if they expire, or, for that matter, encounter some mortal trauma.

"Sometimes, this is not easy. I used to think it is, in general, not meant to be in such matters if you have to force yourself. But I don't think that anymore. I think that kind of self-imposed requirement has something to do with the soul of humanity.

"So, the two types of people. Yeah. I'd rather be able to feel the loss, even if I have to talk myself into it a little bit: remind myself of my own premise.

"Why?

"Well, simply because I don't like the alternative--it would be a sucky way to live. That sense of life (or lack of it, in my eyes) would be miserable. I just can't celebrate a death. I can find it, on occasion, just, needed, but still there is a sadness to that--even in the most extreme cases."

I don't agree, however, that we are required to be nice to people we dislike -- although I think that cruelty, the deliberate infliction of pain, even on someone we detest, is wrong in the same way and for the same reason that taking pleasure in death is wrong. Pain and death are not values to be celebrated. .

Michael, Dylan Thomas' "Do not go gentle into that good night" is one of my favorite poems. When I was at UCLA, he came there and gave a reading of some of his poetry, and that one, movingly read, was one of them.

No one has yet commented on my statement that "who we were at 5 years old, at 15, at 21 and 41 and 79, is, at core, who we still are." I'd be interested to know if others share my view.

Barbara

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Barbara:

I agree with all those age markers you cite except for the "5" year old marker.

I am not fully certain that our "core" self is either formed or known at "5"ish. Additionally, I am not fully certain as to whether our self verifiable "memories" at "5" outweigh the familial "myth-stories" complete with pictures that can overwhelm the reality of "5".

However, the rest of the age markers make perfect sense to me and if a person is not completely conflicted, do represent their core self.

Adam

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Barbara:

I agree with all those age markers you cite except for the "5" year old marker.

I am not fully certain that our "core" self is either formed or known at "5"ish. Additionally, I am not fully certain as to whether our self verifiable "memories" at "5" outweigh the familial "myth-stories" complete with pictures that can overwhelm the reality of "5".

However, the rest of the age markers make perfect sense to me and if a person is not completely conflicted, do represent their core self.

Adam

The skull sutures do not fuse until around ten years of age. The character is not fully formed until the mid 20's. Between 5 and 20 adverse life conditions can bring changes contrary to one's natural bent or inclinations. I have seen this in myself and in our four (now fully adult and middle age) children. By the way, adversity need not be destructive. Under some circumstances it can temper the steel.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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In response to Barbara about her comment about the continuity of youth, I can honestly say that such a lack is the greatest regret of my life. As a kid, I went to nine different schools in three different countries on two different continents in eleven year (skipped eight grade). I wasn't allowed to keep in touch with anyone, so everything and everyone was always new. I ran away from home at 16 and never contacted the folks again. It does make me feel somewhat alienated. A few years ago, I received a phone call out of the blue from Germany from my seventh grade class. about a class reunion. (I was located through the magic and wonders of the Internet) I can't express how excited I was after ... well, let's just say, a few decades ... to contact people I knew way back then. I went into debt to travel overseas and see them, even though at this stage, they're virtual strangers. I'm still in snail mail contact with one of my old friends whom I hadn't seen in forty years, and, pathetic though it may sound, that means more to me than getting together with my friends here in Chicago.

I honestly think we need someone who understands our past. I think Dr. Branden's words for it was visibility.

Ginny

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Any time that Barbara Branden asks a question, I'm sure going to dialogue with her. This one, then:

"No one has yet commented on my statement that "who we were at 5 years old, at 15, at 21 and 41 and 79, is, at core, who we still are." I'd be interested to know if others share my view. "

Well, to start this off, Barbara... I was thinking of Nathaniel's work. Particularly how he talks about the child self, the adolescent self, and the adult self.

As simple a distinction as I think he made, it impressed me, it was useful (I think I have it right). What I got from it was that normally, especially being "raised," and such...you are taught to kill each after you progress to the next. Branden, on the other hand, points out the needlessness of this. To be whole, best to cultivate, nurture, all three. More importantly, to know the strengths and weaknesses of each, and who is in charge overall.

I am expressing this in a very basic way, but I really tried hard to get a deep sense of NB's work when I studied and did things with him, so I am only trying to get it across without spoiling it. I find he is very masterful at reducing things to very useable concepts that work daily, for a long time.

So I guess my answer, Barbara, is that I'm trying to hang out with all three of me! :) And, that we lose psychological visibility of ourselves, otherwise. AND, not only that but that this is key in understanding others.

rde

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And you know, while I'm at it, dammit...

I just reread my own post there (I hate doing that, but I get paranoid on typos and I always lose anyway)...

It occurs. THAT is what pisses me off about Valliant, and all the other folks that go after NB. I worked over there, I know his track record. Nathaniel has helped many, many people as a psychologist. He works on the phone, probably because he gives good phone, and also, he can help more people (and make more money doing it, that not being anything but proper).

His kung fu is most excellent. There are amazing, decent people everywhere that he fixed.

So, when all this evil-casting goes on about NB, well, good luck with that, or deny the stats.

Enough said.

rde

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Rich: "THAT is what pisses me off about Valliant, and all the other folks that go after NB. I worked over there, I know his track record. Nathaniel has helped many, many people as a psychologist."

Perigo is an especial case in point. He constantly denounces Nathaniel -- and denounces him specifically as a psychologist -- while proudly announcing that he has never read him. That's integrity for you!

Barbara

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Having suffered the murder of my boyfriend (love of my life) by a carjacker when he was 25 and I 28, and the loss of my sister to an undiagnosed heart arrythmia two years earlier when she was 20, I learned the reality of grief quite intimately.

Perhaps the most important thing that I have come to realize is that, given the facts, which one has no choice but to accept, grief itself as a response to loss is a good thing. It is a celebration. Yes, the loss is painfull, but it is painful in relation to the value which we placed on the one we lost. If we did not love, we would not grieve, and the strength of our grief is a testiment to the depth of our love. I still think of them daily, and cry at least weekly, and am happy that I cry.

I'll have more to say on related issues.

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