To make a brief aside from my vacation posts, I was looking through some notes tonight, and found some unfinished thoughts from last December, shortly after my friend Ryan passed away. Looks like I was thinking of a follow up to my Flyin’ Ryan post, but never finished it…
The “hard ontological questions” that surround death have to do with the who, the what, and the where of a life. I face this every time there is a death that somehow touches me, and right off the top of my head I can say that part of the questioning has to do with the who, the what and the where a particular life was in relationship to my own.
In Ryan’s case, the questions came about because I was standing beside his body in the hospital and he had been declared brain dead, but was on life support. His heart was beating fine, and so, in that moment, what was I to think about the situation? His body was alive, he looked fine, but the doctors said he was brain dead. I must admit, I was at a complete and utter loss as to know what to think. Who, what, and where was Ryan? Had he gone away, or not? Either way you answer that question, then what do you declare to be the relationship between the mind, the body and, if you will, spirit or soul? Which define(s) the person? Which define(s) being?
I have plenty of thoughts, but there is no way that I can come to conclusions. I turned it over and over in my head that night until I didn’t want to anymore. I think that being human, we understand humanity, but we can’t define it.
The mystics know that God is known through the experience of unknowability, and anyone who has had this deep experience of God knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that it is True beyond what Man commonly calls true. I tend to think that there is a parallel here to humanity. For those of us who think, experience and feel deeply about humanity, about our own and that of others and that of humankind, what we know absolutely about being human is that our humanity—and humanity in general—is something fully unfathomable. We know the mystery is here within us; we are penetrated through and through by it in such a way that it flows through us so vividly that we can feel it as real. We know it’s here. But, we don’t what it is. What we know is that which we do not know.
But, we try to define it and place it into categories anyway. We think if we can do that, if we can assign enough labels to it, then we have made it real. In the buzzwords of academia, we believe that signifiers reify.
Academic or not, we fool ourselves.
Am I only human as long as my body is alive? Am I something else after, and perhaps before? If so, then isn’t that something else the real me? And if it is, did I really live inside this body at all, ever?