Playing Doctor

Initial Visit?

Monday, August 29

Immortality, denied

I came to fully appreciate the inevitability of my own death when I was 22 in Paris, having just completed The Book of Laughter and Forgetting by Milan Kundera.

All of us know we’re going to die. Everyone knows everything that starts must end. We know the circle of life is really a line segment. But each of us has tricks—both intellectual and emotional—that allow us to pretend that none of this is actually the case.

If we do contemplate our own demise, we immediately shift the focus onto what will live on after us: our children, our stories, our works, our foundation. In sum: our legacy.

And the promise of an afterlife is so very sweet. So very, very tempting. An easy out—as it were—but logistical hogwash. And unnecessary for anything. We want to live forever, that’s reasonable. But we have no need for eternity, and many reasons to limit our lives to discrete quantities.

I remember the raw anger and frustration I felt that summer, dealing with the inevitability of ceasing to exist. Of understanding that I would one day be in the ground, not thinking, not dreaming. Every Parisian corner I turned, I saw the work of men and women who were dead—who had been dead for centuries. Not only the works that hung on the walls of museums, but the brick work of the bridges, the fencing around the gardens, everything around me was built by dead people.

The quick despondency I fell into was the childish frustration of a seven year-old boy who was denied what he had been promised for Christmas. I had been promised the new Shogun Robot, wings and a halo, and singing songs with Jesus on fluffy white clouds for all eternity. I wasn’t going to get any of it, and I was pissed off.

As I was starting to grasp some acceptance of this, my family had dinner near the Pompidou. The Centre Pompidou was the one building that I found hopeful in Paris. In a city dedicated to the dead, it seemed the one building that looked forward, that welcomed the coming generations.

We strolled past it on the way back from dinner. About a half block away, as we approached the sculpture garden, a crowd started to gather. We thought there might be a street performer, but when we got close we saw a guard trying to cover the torso of a woman who had jumped from the Centre’s observation deck into the sculpture garden.

She was wearing tight, fashionable blue jeans and red stiletto shoes. She had dressed up for her own suicide.

She had sqeezed into those jeans, fastened the straps of those heels, climbed her way up to the observation deck in her fabulous heels, looked out over Paris, and jumped into the sculpture garden.

What idiocy.

In the fury of not getting the gift she wanted, she smashed the gift she had.


Blogger dan writes:

Wow, that was so sincerely insightful that I am unable conjure up a typically cynical response. You should have saved it for Uncynical Wednesday, when I would have expected it.

To have an existential dilemma in Paris would be overwhelmingly simone-de-beauvoirish, which is to say, incredibly depressing.


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