Sonntag, 23. August 2015

Treasure Islands of the Bookshelf: About Death as a Component of Life

Resilience and salutogenesis are not only theories, but can in practice be acquired, too – especially with regard to the comprehensibility, manageability and meaningfulness of life. One possibility to achieve this is the way through stories, on the one hand personally told ones, on the other hand read ones, these give in the head of the reader rise to an image of the personal version of the author’s story.
Rafik Schami (born 1946 in Damaskus, Syria) tells in his Reise zwischen Nacht und Morgen (Journey between Night and Morning) of the circus director Samani who writes from every book he read one paragraph out into an exercise book and preserves so a treasure of his favoured passages. I love that idea!

Now let us make a journey of discovery and have a look what treasures hide in our bookshelves!

I want to start today with a passage of Thomas Mann’s (1875, Lübeck, Germany - 1955, Zurich, Switzerland) Zauberberg (The Magic Mountain). The book takes place in a sanatorium in the Swiss Alps where persons suffering from lung diseases are treated and some of them decease over the time.

We often assume that – or at least behave like that – as if out time in this life would be inexhaustibly. We can barely conceive how full our own glass of time still is – but when we witness how the glass of time of another one passes we become aware that even to us stays not all time in the world before we have to follow our forebears.

At this passage of the Zauberberg Hans Castorp, a young naval engineer, now deals with the perception that the constantly existent death in the sanatorium seems to influence the character of the people in a certain way and that it seems the materialistic shaped world to become strange. Subsequently his fatherly friend Ludovico Settembrini counters:

Allow me, engineer, to say to you and to entrust you that the only healthy and noble, for that matter – I want explicitly add this – the only religious way to contemplate death is the one to conceive and sense it as a component and a complement, as a holy condition of life, but not – what would be the opposite of healthy, noble, reasonable and religious – to separate it intellectually somehow from that, to bring it in contrast to that and to display it detestably against it. The elderly adorned their sarcophagi with emblems of life and conception, even with obscene symbols, – the divine was in antique religiosity very often one with the obscene. The people knew how to honour death. Death is sacred as a cradle of life, as a womb of renewal. Seen separated of life it becomes a spectre, a travesty – and something even worse. Because death as independent spiritual force is a very dissolute force whose licentious attraction undoubtedly implies the most dreadful aberration of the human mind.

If the circle of life is such a natural thing – why oh why do we make such a heavy weather with saying farewell?
Yes, we know that we can store the passed ones in our hearts, that they are never completely gone, that the time of the worst grief will pass, that we can remember many moments in gratitude. We think that they are well where they are now, maybe we could have witnessed how they were fetched from somebody of the other world and were squired on their way, hope that we will meet there one day.
But why does it almost tug at our heartstrings if we have to bid farewell “forever” to somebody, to have to release him or her once and for all?
Why does something in us cracks into pieces when suddenly coherences fall into place which we not even guessed before and perhaps had no more opportunity to vocalise them?

We got along in our lives.
We estimate it if our life works under certain rules, rituals recur again and again, persons, places and procedures give us safeness.
We are attached to persons who give a certain meaning to our life, to procedures and places which are related to them, to things which gained a certain meaning through them.
These coherences make our life emotional safer, let it seem more manageable, wrap us in a cocoon.
Our world is diverse, becomes more and more unmanageable – here our safeness is holy to us.
We love it if the world is whole – or if it at least affects to be so.
For if the framework of safeness forms cracks, it could happen that we move on more and more thinner becoming ice, it might be that we fall through, that our complete framework collapses, that we lose our footing, that we sink into the icy water – and then?
Who are we if we are thrown into this chaotic world, naked and bare?
Who or what shelters us from losing ourselves in this hopeless tohubohu if we have become adrift?

Here is for me the only possible answer:
We cannot fall farther as in the hands of God.
No matter what kind of bridges, nets and ice coverings may collapse, no matter how abandoned and disoriented we may feel, no matter how deep we may fall – he – or she – is there, is capable of holding, sustaining, giving caring and love, even accompanying us through the deepest valley. Now and then even in the shape of other people.
This great force which is finally beyond our grasps enwraps us, rescues us like a hammock or a last safety net and is capable to touch us deeply in our interior.
But that requires our bravery, the bravery to entrust ourselves to that unfathomable mystery from which we only ever can understand a part, because we have to give up control for that, we have to release, to leave the guidance to somebody else.
But if we risk it, if we give ourselves completely in the hands of this numinous force and let us bear from it, then we can rise like a phoenix from the ashes, being raised up from the deep and be born to a new life – as the same person that we used to be but changed, renewed through the experience of death, through the passing through a dark valley into the light of a new sunrise.
And if we know ourselves walked by that faith, then we can release the passed ones, can allow them to go their way into the other world and to know ourselves still related with them.

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