Awareness of death (and life)

From an interview with writer George Saunders, by Joel Lovell, published in the New York Times:
…George Saunders conceded that, sure, one reality was that he and I were a couple guys talking fiction and eating avocado salad and listening to Alanis Morissette coming from the speaker above our heads. Another was that we were walking corpses. We’d been on the subject of death for a while. A friend I loved very much died recently, and I was trying to describe the state I sometimes still found myself in — not quite of this world, but each day a little less removed — and how I knew it was a good thing, the re-entry, but I regretted it too, because it meant the dimming of a kind of awareness that doesn’t get lit up very much…

“It would be so interesting if we could stay like that,” Saunders said, meaning: if we could conduct our lives with the kind of openness that sometimes comes with proximity to death. He described a flight from Chicago to Syracuse that he was on a little over 10 years ago. “We were flying along…I’m on my way home. And suddenly there’s this crazy sound, like a minivan hit the side of the plane. And I thought, Uh, oh, I’m not even gonna look up. If I don’t look up from the magazine, it’s not happening. And then it happened again.”

Everyone starts screaming, the plane is making terrible metal-in-distress sounds. Black smoke — “black like in a Batman movie” — starts streaming out of the fresh-air nozzles overhead. They turn back toward O’Hare, “and there’s that grid of Chicago, and I’m seeing it coming up really fast.” The lights flicker, and the pilot comes on and tells everyone, with panic in his voice, to stay buckled. “And there’s this little 14-year-old boy next to me. He turns to me and says, ‘Sir, is this supposed to be happening?’

“And I remember thinking, No, no, no, no, no, no, no. Just that one syllable, over and over. And also thinking, You could actually piss yourself. And the strongest thing was the sense of that seat right there.” He pointed toward the imaginary seat back in front of him. “I thought, Oh, yeah, this body. I’ve had it all this time, and that’s what’s going to do it. That right there.”

He had assumed that if he was ever faced with death, he would “handle it with aplomb,” he would be present in the moment, he would make peace in the time he had left. “But I couldn’t even remember my own name,” he said. “I was so completely not present. I was just the word no.”

Eventually he managed to turn to the kid next to him and say that it was going to be O.K., “though I didn’t think so. And there was a woman across the aisle. And finally — it was like coming out of a deep freeze — I could just reach over, and I took her hand.” That’s how they remained for the next several minutes, waiting to die.

In the end, they didn’t crash into the Chicago streets or plunge into the freezing lake but made it safely to the runway, where all the emergency-response equipment was in place but not needed. It turned out, in a detail that could have been lifted from a George Saunders story, they all nearly died because the plane had flown into a flock of geese.

“For three or four days after that,” he said, “it was the most beautiful world. To have gotten back in it, you know? And I thought, If you could walk around like that all the time, to really have that awareness that it’s actually going to end. That’s the trick.”

…You could call this desire — to really have that awareness, to be as open as possible, all the time, to beauty and cruelty and stupid human fallibility and unexpected grace — the George Saunders Experiment…

(Full interview here –
http://mobile.nytimes.com/2013/01/06/magazine/george-saunders-just-wrote-the-best-book-youll-read-this-year.html)

Leave a comment

Filed under Death and dying

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s