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  • Writer's picturePiotr

Something For The End

I'm at the annual thanatological conference in the Slovak town of Stará Lesná. I got here so suddenly that I wouldn't be surprised if it wasn't through mysterious teleportation into the realm of an unknown parallel universe. The Tatra Mountains seen from the other side are different, as one should expect, but I imagine them as if I were looking at the Big Dipper or another familiar constellation from some distant planetary system on the opposite side of our familiar night sky. In this universe, someone suddenly removed all the vowels from the language that sounds so familiar, yet sixty percent of it was incomprehensible to me. "Smrt!" - Slovak word for “death” even more abrupt than its Polish counterpart “śmierć”, which cannot be pronounced without a smile on one's face, gives the impression that passing must come faster and more suddenly.

With death, it is best to either not know about it at all, which is probably impossible, or to know and constantly think about it a lot. Thinking about death "just a little" is not advisable because the superficiality of thinking about nothingness can only intensify anxiety.

One of the presentations I heard was about how to embrace death in such a way that our dying would gain meaning. The trick? Leaving a trace of ourselves in the form of art, music, or literature - perhaps loading our entire thinking onto a computer hard drive. Someone who has already transferred their mind to paper or into an electronic cloud will finally experience peace! I don't see salvation in it, perhaps except for the brief relief for those who seek refuge in it. Once a thought is set free, like a dove from a cage, it becomes information completely independent of me, and the essence of life is not just information but touching, feeling, tasting, inhaling, and exhaling. The imprint left in the sand is just a reflection.

Our own life and our own death have a solipsistic dimension of something that no one else will experience for us (or after us). As for leaving behind works, I prefer to draw something sincerely on a napkin with a crayon found in a floor crevice than to think about creating something "permanent." I feel too much pressure from generations that are yet to come.

Art born out of pride of self preservation and arrogance of immortality would become a grand lie. After all, from the perspective of billions of years, a crayon drawing on a napkin has the same material permanence as a large bronze monument. It is true that the durability of my legacy can extend over many generations. However, what good is it when, in the context of the universe's existence, the duration of many generations is just a barely noticeable flash! My short life is a single drumbeat, and the memory of generations - only its brief echo.

✽ ✽ ✽

My time in Stará Lesná was short, and my return seemed even more sudden than my arrival. My spacecraft pierced the border between the two worlds. Sudden flash of green light announced that I had left behind the parallel universe where soap does not lather, and meals have no taste, that I can recognize. Suddenly, I found myself in my familiar reality with the distinctive Polish Highlander style and the aroma of smoked sheep milk cheese.

For the end, I think about resting in the ground in such a way as to be completely absorbed by it. In a canvas shroud, in a box made of wicker or raw pine, without makeup, without embalming or lavish attire. No speeches, no lies, no priests, shamans, and no charlatans. When the time comes, to vanish without a trace: that is the only thought that brings me relief.

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