I just read a fine interview with Cormac McCarthy where he put it pretty well:
In talking to older people who've had good lives, inevitably half of them will say, "The most significant thing in my life is that I've been extraordinarily lucky." And when you hear that you know you're hearing the truth. It doesn't diminish their talent or industry. You can have all that and fail.Of course, I'm pretty young still, but already I get this eerie feeling that I'm not in as much control of my living as I'd like to believe (or as responsible for living as the notion of Law and causality would lead us to believe).
Why am I alive and not some really sweet and dear friends that died years ago? Some died in car accidents, some from lupus, some in random acts of violence... The list grows and will continue to; there's nothing I can do about that. I can be thankful that the list doesn't grow suddenly: that the people I meet all get to live long lives and I get to share the pleasure of their living.
There's nothing wrong with dying; it's a gift, as Derrida wrote. It's because we will all die that we have the opportunity to be ethical. It's against that backdrop that we perform our lives.
I'm living life these days largely without any metaphysical grounding. There is a great moment in the Analects that really informs me on this:
11.12 - Zilu asked how to serve the spirits and the gods. The Master (Confucius) replied, "Not yet being able to serve other people, how would you be able to serve the spirits?" Zilu said, "May I ask about death?" The Master replied, "Not yet understanding life, how could you understand death?"The footnote to this passage is also really informative for me in reiterating the force of Confucius' teaching and also serves well for this post:
David Keightley (1990), in his reflections on the broader meaning and value of death in classical China, allows that death was perceived as "unproblematic." Of course, he is not claiming that the end of life was not approached with some trepidation. He means rather that death was not considered unnatural, perverse, or horrible. Chinese "natural" death is contrasted with the enormity of death in the Judeo-Christian tradition, where mortality is conceived as divine punishment meted out for human hubris and disobedience.That said, it is a greater sadness, and unnatural, when a parent must bury their child. Children should expect to bury their parents, this is part of the child's obligation to their parents, but it is a tragedy for a parent to have to bury their child.
I am thankful to Andy for his friendship to my friend Ari - clearly Andy was a significant part of Ari's life and I am the beneficiary of their years together.