March 28, 2013
2013 Kids: Day 3
The day began with an almost death and ended with the real thing. Death is weird. Can’t explain it, can’t explain it away. And like birth, everyone does it sooner or later.
As I reread what I wrote yesterday, I noticed I said that when the first kid of the last doe of the day was born, it was birthed dead. That got me to thinking, was it dead? The kid never took a breath. Can there be life without breath? Can there be death without life? The old storytellers of the Hebrew Testament tell the story of Creator gathering up ground, forming it, and then breathing the breath of life into the mud ball. With breath, forth came human life. For some of our ancient people life comes with breath.
I choose to think life comes with breath with birth. Many folk don’t agree and say life comes before breath before birth. However, defining existence prior to birth and prior to breath as life is accepting society’s norm of thinking in absolutes. Absolutes like right or wrong, good or bad, moral or immoral, hot or cold, life or death. Absolutes are problematic because this either-or way of thinking does not allow us to wonder in liminal space. In other words, by defining everything we know as not death as life we confine the fullness of creation, but when we dull the edges of what we choose to call life and death we enhance the richness of life and death because we become comfortable with the ambiguousness of existence.
Years ago, Belinda and I had a baby after twenty-five weeks in the womb. Breath was not breathed into and breath was not taken. So, like the kid from the previous post, was she born dead? Well, she did not have life as we know it. She was not a walking, breathing being. And yet, there was something prior to birth. Something like life, something real, something extraordinary and unique existed, but that something did not fit the language box of life. In our want for simpleness, we have not taken the initiative to find a word (or words) which best expresses the state of being lying somewhere between non-human and human existence. Or have we? Perhaps we do have a word to talk about unique existence prior to life, but in our sloppiness we have not allowed it to become all it might be. After all, womb is a fairly decent word that expresses something more than an ammonic sack. The womb, created at conception, is a unique landscape—at least as unique as the landscape we call earth. The landscape of the womb is a place of extraordinary existence—every bit as unique as life is on earth. Therefore, it seems a shame to use the word life to talk about an existence that is extraordinarily different from this breathing walking around life we know. Instead of describing existence in the womb as life, wouldn’t be more appropriate to talk about being wombed or wombing or wombingful? Would not such language speak to an extraordinary and creative existence that is equal to but not the same as life? To value womb and life as different but equally unique existences is to appreciate the rich and imaginative nature of creation. By letting go of either-or absolute thinking and allowing our language to become creative and imaginative, existence becomes fluid and rich. Moreover, fluid existence means we can better cherish death.
Cherishing death though, is to find fertile language that honors post-life existence in the way womb honors pre-life existence. As wombed existence becomes richer when we let go of phrases like life in the womb, post-life existence becomes richer when we let go of words like afterlife. In doing so, after life or post-life would speak to that existence which comes into being when the breathing walking around life we know, ends.
It is within the human imagination find language that speaks to post-life existence as extraordinary, creative, and equal to life, but not the same as life. The trick is to find a word(s) (Many that come to mind seem inadequate: Heaven, Hell, paradise, angel, eternity, afterlife, Hereafter, eternity.) that speak to post-life as wombed speaks to pre-life. There is also the need to find new ways of thinking and descriptions of existence that allow us to imagine post-human as fetus speaks to pre-human. In doing so, we move away from words and phrases like, life in the womb and afterlife toward constructs like, as the womb is to life, life is to ??? and as the fetus is to human, human is to ???. With such words, we can better speak to and honor the fullness of our human and non-human existence.
Taking in the fullness of the creativity of our human and non-human existence allows humanity to grasp the richness of death. The movement, if I might call it that, from wombed to living or fetus to human is that of birth. Birth in its own right is a transitional moment from one existence to another. There are times at the farm when we have watched a doe mother give birth to a kid, only to have the kid fully within the ammonic sack and fully outside of mom lying on straw. This moment only lasts for an instant, but in that instant, one can watch the kid moving and having its existence in two realities at once. The instant the sack breaks, one begins to understand that birth is a unique transitional moment. Death is similar and transitional, but not the same as birth. Unlike birth, where the fetus body becomes the human body, death is a transitional experience into a post-life existence that is bodiless.
The lack of body brings forth the realization that both the wombed-fetus and the living-human experience death. This lack of body in post-life existence is why I commented that when the first kid of the last doe of the day was born, it was birthed dead. However, there is one stark difference between the death of the wombed and death of the living. Those which experience life have the opportunity to experience the movement of being from wombed to life to ???. Whereas the fetus experiences the movement from wombed to ???, missing the experience of life. Does missing the experience of life matter? I don’t know. But I do feel creation experiences deep loss when either a doe births a kid or a mother births a baby (and I choose to allow the mother to define that existence within her as baby) that is dead.
Death really is weird. Can’t explain it, can’t explain it away—as might be noted in my reflection. However, in this season of birth, of Holy Week and of Passover, which is a time of life and a time of death, nailing an explanation for death and life doesn’t seem as important and as taking a deep breath and wondering about the richness and fullness of our (goat and human) existence.
© David B. Bell 2013