Dieing well in America – Part I

I’m not a theist, as those of you who know me, or who’ve read a bit here, are aware, but things keep happening… things that make me wonder… well, that make me think that somehow ‘the universe’ … at least our little bit of the energy spectrum we like to think of as the universe … is involved. Is that a cautious enough description?

I know you skeptics dismiss all this as just pure coincidence, and there’s no arguing with that, it well could be, but sometimes it just seems… it just bloody seems that there’s some intention out there, some unexplained connections that wend things round to fall in our laps in ways that just don’t quite – compute.

But, here it is: Since I finished Die Wise earlier this week I’d been trying to sort out my reactions and understandings to the point I could blog a bit about it, as it has had a tremendous, powerful, upheaving kind of effect on me, and I did introduce it a bit in the last blog post on this thread, with my story of the death of Ma-mama, hoping to work into a little more discussion of the book itself in the next few days, but not knowing really how to take it on, as it’s so large in scope and really covers so many more things about our lives than just the idea of how we die, tho that is central to everything.

And then, in The Sun magazine which just came this week is an interview with the author, Stephen Jenkinson. An interview in which he succinctly explains many of the things that are woven into the complex narrative form of the book, and will make it much easier for me to get a handle on what he’s actually saying here. An interview which is profoundly powerful and moving itself.

So, of course, the interview and the writing of the article and it’s printing etc. were clearly all done long before I began to want to try to write about it… but, it is just so interesting that all this concatenation occurs … and it just makes me wonder. Because I don’t think that it was my wanting it or needing it that made it appear, that’s too facile. What I think is that all of this is of a piece and is all part of some fabric, some whole cloth in which I am a single thread.

I weave. I write, I love the coincidence that makes me part of this life.

I will be transcribing from the article here, as The Sun is not online. (In fact, its Reader’s Write feature just began this month accepting digital entries!) For those of you who bother to read this but take exception to Jenkinson’s perspective, please realize that this is all deeply complex and to understand it requires immersion in the depth of it, which any simple format makes difficult. The book is heavily dependent on story, and the full grasp of much of what he says builds through the experiential power of those stories. Don’t dismiss this. It is a message of profound meaning for our world today, and deserves full consideration.

So. What does he say? He says first of all that he is primarily a farmer. Though I’m not a farmer, this resonates with me deeply, as I come from farmer folk, and some of my dearest friends are farmers. I know this will be understood at least by them.

When the interviewer asks if he has a ‘daily practice’ this is his reply:

Daily practice isn’t a term I use, so my first answer would be no. What I do principally is farm. The farm is everything. We have quite a few animals, and they all have to be tended. When you enter into that contract of disarray called the ‘domestication of animals,’ you might not know what you’re signing up for, but you soon find out. Your job is to compensate the animals for what you’re asking of them: that they not run away; that they reproduce on your doorstep; and that they more or less submit to the knife or the bullet when the time comes. That’s the story of domestication. And your job as a farmer is to make it close to a fair deal.

If I have a practice, that would be it: to try to hold up my end of that bargain. And I do the same with the plants on my farm. Crops can be just as easily enslaved and abused as animals – and typically are.

We have our daily rounds on the farm. Whatever general mayhem arises, you’ve got to respond to it. Right now we’re in a season of heavy change. At night it can be very cold, and there’s no forage in the fields or in the pasture. If you’re asking animals to reproduce, you’ve got to make sure they’re well fed.

I think this is what you might mean by ‘spiritual”: the willingness to be cognizant of these situations and to carry the thread of grief that’s stitched into them. Domestication darkens the doorstep of all involved. Leaning to farm means never escaping from that grief. Just because you’ve figured out what these animals need in order to procreate doesn’t mean you’re the boss. It means you’re pleading with them to do so. And feeding them well is part of your end of it. It’s a subtle exchange. I believe the animals know at some level what’s going on, but they know it from an animal’s perspective, not from a human’s perspective. There’s a kind of uneasy statement of intent that flows back and forth. On a farm the connection between death and life is clear, but in most of the culture a deep understanding of death doesn’t enter into people’s choices of their manner of life or how they educate their kids or what they say yes or no to.

North Americans need a great awakening. What we thought was so isn’t so; what we once believed to be true isn’t true and never was. Here are some of the lies we’re told: ‘There’s enough for everybody; we’ve just got a distribution problem. As long as we pay the sticker price for something, we’re entitled to have it. We get a vote in anything of real significance or importance. Dying is a rupture in the natural order of things.’

With any luck at all, before you’re thirty-five or forty, you wake up and realize that none of this is so. It never was.

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