Kurt Bell

A life of courage, joy and independence.

Death

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Shout your musings down the corridors of time
They echo and return
Lost at last


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The Daggett Pioneer Cemetery is a lonesome plot serving several centuries of California desert settlers. I’ve visited the place twice and have noted a curious feature in that the majority of the graves are unmarked. What is it about this community that doesn’t note even cursory details about it’s dead? Just a hole in the stony soil, a makeshift cross and a few desert rocks on top. I like it. The emphasis here seems more on life than death.


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I dearly enjoy standing before the graves of my heroes. So far I’ve paid my respects to Thoreau, Emerson, Hawthorne, Alcott, Melville* and Newton. This past week I added Mary A. Beal to the list. It’s a good thing to know these people were real and to see the proof and evidence of mortality’s offer of one brief chance at creative expression. There’s truly no time to waste.


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All those worries
Which haunted my father’s thoughts
Rest now with his bones
Lost and soon forgotten
At the bottom of the sea


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Failure today. I started walking into the desert and had no idea where to go. Wound up asleep on a small sand dune. A blowfly woke me up when it landed on my nose. Must have thought I was dead. Someday.


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I’d like to be forgotten in the Daggett cemetery.


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There is a great difference between the ghost towns of America and Japan. Those in the USA feel like the lost past while ghost towns in Japan speak of the dying present.


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I’d like to be forgotten in the Daggett cemetery.


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There is a great difference between the ghost towns of America and Japan. Those in the USA feel like the lost past while ghost towns in Japan speak of the dying present.


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What a strange, disconcerting experience… Some folks in Germany contacted me to ask about a place featured in one of my Japan video which they would like to visit. I tried so hard to find it on Google Earth but I can’t. I can only recall the general area and even that was a struggle. Even going back and looking over the mountains in Japan via satellite imagery (once a familiar exercise) was like seeing someplace I knew for the first time. In the end I couldn’t find the place. It’s really gone from my mind. That life is indeed fading from my reality. Death is truly an inexorable process that begins long before we die.


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The decay of a tree complements my own dissolution.


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I hope to die
Lost in doubt
Without comprehension
At war with certainty
Ignorant
And at peace


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The further I get from land
The less often I look back
In fact
I’ve lost track of direction
It’s all one blissful horizon now
A carefree swim
Without redemption


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I love discovering my country’s decomposing infrastructure. The dead corpse of the past making way for a better tomorrow.


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The decline of faculties needent be attended with sorrow. As capabilities fade I’ll simply wander on along diminishing pathways, where the wilds gather and a compass will do no good. Those lands are sufficient, though I may no longer understand or know to whence I have gone.


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I’ve decided to not participate in that software company opportunity. I see death approaching on the far horizon and loss of vitality much nearer still. One serious job’s enough.


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Yesterday’s unplanned hike into Japan’s famous suicide forest was an altogether unremarkable event. Nevertheless, the experience brought to mind another lonely hike, many years ago when I found a corpse at the foot of a cliff. The man had fallen and lay in mute repose upon a large boulder. He wore only shorts and climbing shoes and his young body retained perfectly muscled tone though clearly his skeleton was shattered.

I’m writing these words in an effort to describe and relate how the atmosphere of the suicide forest differed from that of site where the young climber died. For while the first carried a premeditated sense of fear and mystery the latter was surrounded by the more real and visceral sense of shock, tangible horror and painful reflection which will echo through my mind for a lifetime. Perhaps if I had found a body in the suicide forest the experiences might be more similar though I rather think not due to the distinction of deliberate versus accidental loss.


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The reason for my urgency of life, the sense of immediate living, and my ever apexing optimism, is the tactile sensation of death running a cold, bony finger across my throat. It’s a little like being trapped with a bunch of beautiful fish in a sealed container of water with no exit, and a single deep lungful of breath. With no evident escape I gaze with joy and wonder at the fish, cognizant of these last seconds, capitalizing my reality towards more expedient ends.


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Death is here
Attending to business
Mindless of our anxiety


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It’s easy to become a monster
Simply follow
When you know you should lead
Your spirit will die
And something hollow
And rotten
Will fill the empty space


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Seeing the younger generations coming
It’s an honor and a privilege
To make way
By becoming first dust
Then memory
A few genetic turns
And then nothing, but the most distant, near irrelevant echo of influence

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I live like a spinning top
Stability through inertia
A false sense of permanence
Spinning days
Spinning nights
Winding down
Faltering slowly with age
Toppling

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The perception of my declining faculties is a pleasant reminder of the churning cycle of arriving and disappearing generations. My slowing metabolism, aching joints and increasing susceptibility to disease increases my joy in simple activities like a walk with the dog, or a happy lunch on a mountain boulder like I did today with my friend Hieu. My fading short-term memory and increased difficulty learning new things makes me appreciate the rich wealth of long-term remembrance which fill my head from five decades of active, joyful living. And best of all, the clear and present fact that I’m walking a razor edge of life with oblivion on either side, and that everyone I know is treading their own similar narrow passage, causes me to catch my breath when my daughter sits down beside me to share a funny video, or when my wife and I enjoy a shared memory from youth. I love getting old. I appreciate feeling my body aging and beginning to weaken. I enjoy the fact that my mind is starting to fade. It’s the best reminder of mortality I know. And the truest reason to choose life in the quite brief time remaining.


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Being alive is like standing on a high and wobbly bamboo scaffold with no way down and knowledge of an approaching typhoon.


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As usual I’m enjoying lunch with the dead. Today I’m thinking how different the American and Japanese process of handling the dispossessed, those whose lineage of family interest has run out, and who have no one left to bring flowers, care for tombs, or pay annuity for upkeep.

In the USA trust often goes to a community endowment, an investment paid into by families at the time of interment, the return on which is used to fund upkeep in perpetuity. Forgotten graves are evident due to wear and the fact of neglect. With nobody but the gardener coming to visit.

In Japan, where no bodies are kept due to the practice of cremation, individuals’ ashes are kept in a small family crypt with a common headstone. When there’s no one left, the Buddhist priest in residence moves the headstone (not sure what happens to the ashes) into a common ground at some far corner of the cemetery. Over centuries this pile can grow into a large mound with forgotten families clustered together like refugees.

The feeling is the same in both countries. Whether it’s a forgotten patch of graves with no flowers and toppled headstones in the USA, or a pyramid of moss-covered granite tombstones in Japan. Life’s transitory nature is revealed, and the fact that not even memory is immune from the weathering effects of neglect and disinterest.


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I’m having lunch today with dead teens and twenty-somethings. Young men who gave their lives during World War Two. These men died young, with bodies more immune to disease than bullets, bombs and hand grenades. Not so the many elders who surround them in this field of memories; old folks who often died or were pained by diseases and ailments which rarely afflict the young.

Old people are more vulnerable not due to their age, but to the fact of their halted or reduced reproductive capability. At least this is the claim of biology, which describes events such as menopause as a biological horizon; a point beyond which the culling force of evolution cannot reach.

The idea is simple. During our reproductive years those who are succeptible to disease may be removed from the reproducing population before they can pass their genes to the next generation. It’s a harsh reality. A fact which Darwin himself recoiled from. It’s also a testimony to our species’ capacity for ethics that we almost universally reject the satisfaction of this natural law upon our own. That said. Even our compassion cannot yet protect very well the aged from the diseases which afflict and may ultimately bring them down.

With the loss of reproduction, comes the loss of the filter which naturally weeds out disease. This is apparently the reason so many diseases are most common, or even unique to old age. Our seniority gains us much in terms of maturity, wisdom and hindsight, though sadly it also robs us through importance of the very vehicle which gave us such long life in the first place.

Biology and science in general are filled with many such examples of bittersweet irony. Uncalculated manifestations of truth under the governance of indifference.


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If I knew I only had a short time to live, and if my family was OK with the idea, then I would buy in a small boat and then set sail for Bouvet Island. A one-way trip into oblivion. That’s the idea actually. Though I suspect the actual doing of this act would be far less gratifying than I might hope. As I think that when it comes time to die I’d rather be surrounded by people I love than an ocean of indifference.


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I’ve begun the process of watching an acquaintance fail in business. It’s a venture in which he’s likely gambled everything, and thus has everything to lose. I’ve been there myself, twice, and the memory is so real it’s almost tactile. I laid up late last night staring at the ceiling, thinking of him. I’ll bet he was staring at the ceiling too. Just like I used to do. Beginning to drown. Going down through a form of death which isn’t really dying.

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I’ve begun the process of watching an acquaintance fail in business. It’s a venture in which he’s likely gambled everything, and thus has everything to lose. I’ve been there myself, twice, and the memory is so real it’s almost tactile. I laid up late last night staring at the ceiling, thinking of him. I’ll bet he was staring at the ceiling too. Just like I used to do. Beginning to drown. Going down through a form of death which isn’t really dying..

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