Thoreau on Living Through Loss - The Marginal

There’s a cosmic comfort in figuring out what actually occurs after we die – that supreme affirmation of getting lived. And but, although we are able to perceive that every individual is a transient constellation of atoms, shedding a beloved constellation is life’s most devastating expertise. It’s incomprehensible, cosmically unfair. He feels unsurvivable.

Within the final years of his quick and loss-ridden life, Henry David Thoreau (July 12, 1817 – Could 6, 1862) wrote in his diary:

I understand that we ourselves die partly out of sympathy for the dying of every of our associates or shut kin. Every of those experiences is an assault on our life pressure. It turns into a supply of marvel that those that have misplaced many associates nonetheless stay. After having watched for a very long time round a pal’s sickbed, we too partially move away with him, and are much less and fewer identifiable with this state of affairs.

Henry David Thoreau (Daguerreotype by Benjamin D. Maxham, 1856)

Thoreau’s lifetime of losses had begun seventeen years earlier. He was twenty-five when his beloved older brother died of tetanus after slicing himself whereas shaving – a horrific dying, ravaging the nervous system and contorting the physique in agony. Thoreau was deeply saddened. A lifelong journalist, he slipped right into a coma from writing for 5 weeks. He tried to hearken to the music field, which had all the time stuffed him with pleasure, however the sounds got here out unusual and hole.

Ultimately, the fever dream of mourning erupted into a brand new orientation towards dying. Two months after his bereavement, as the tough New England winter approached spring, Thoreau wrote to a pal – a letter quoted within the totally fantastic guide Three Ways Back: How Emerson, Thoreau, and William James Responded to the Greatest Losses of Their Lives (public library):

What proper do I’ve to cry, I who have not stopped asking myself? At first we really feel like some alternatives for kindness and sympathy have been misplaced, however later we be taught that each one pure grief is an ample reward for all. That’s, if we’re devoted; for a terrific sorrow is barely sympathy for the soul which arranges occasions, and is as pure because the resin of Arabian bushes. Solely nature has the suitable to weep perpetually, as a result of she alone is harmless.

Having resumed his diary, he broaches the topic within the privateness of its pages:

I stay within the perpetual greenery of the globe. I die within the annual decay of nature. We will higher perceive the phenomenon of dying within the animal if we first take into account it within the order instantly under the vegetable. The dying of the flea and the elephant are solely phenomena of the lifetime of nature.

It was a season of losses within the Thoreau universe. His pal and mentor Emerson, who had rushed to stick with him and take care of him following his brother’s dying, misplaced his beloved five-year-old son to scarlet fever, as incurable as tetanus. of their time. Now it was Thoreau’s flip to consolation his pal. Constructing on his new acceptance of the naturalness of dying as an antidote to grief, he wrote to Emerson:

Nature isn’t shaken by the grossest breath. The hurricane solely breaks a number of twigs in a nook of the forest. The snow reaches its common depth every winter, and the chic-a-dee lisps the identical notes. The previous legal guidelines prevail regardless of pestilence and famine. No genius or advantage so uncommon and revolutionary seems in a metropolis or a village, that the pine ceases to exude resin within the wooden, or that the beast or the hen abandons its habits.

Artwork by Sophie Blackall for “Dirge With out Music” from The universe in verse.

A time earlier than Rilke insisted that “dying is our pal exactly as a result of it brings us into absolute and passionate presence with all that’s right here, which is pure, which is love”, and a century and a half earlier than Richard Dawkins thought-about the possibility of dying, Thoreau provides:

Demise is gorgeous when seen as a regulation, not an accident – It’s as frequent as life… Each blade within the subject – each leaf within the forest – provides life in its season as superbly as ‘she was taken. Once we have a look at the fields, we’re not saddened as a result of these explicit flowers or grasses will wither – for his or her dying is the regulation of latest life.

Match these fragments of Three Ways Back with Thoreau on nature as prayer, then revisit the neuroscience of grief and therapeutic, Emily Dickinson on love and loss, Seneca on the important thing to resilience within the face of loss, and Nick Cave on grief as a portal to vitality.

#Thoreau #Dwelling #Loss #Marginal

By moh

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