Using C. S. Lewis’ A Grief Observed as a starting point, I write on the identity we find in others and how one comes to grieve this loss of sense of self when they lose the other. I discuss how we find ourselves done and undone by others in this sense, in that community may offer us a sense of wholeness but it can also decentre us in loss. Although this decentred understanding of ourselves is hopeful, even if it is hard in times of loss; we are made and remade, done and undone by both ourselves and the other and we continue to grow.


“If H. ‘is not’, then she never was. I mistook a cloud of atoms for a person. There aren’t, and never were, any people. Death only reveals the vacuity that was always there. What we call the living are simply those who have not yet been unmasked. All equally bankrupt, but some not yet declared.” C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed [1]

I do not know if it is because Lewis is ultimately questioning God’s fairness in grief or if there is an irony in me in particular finding such solace in a line from a very Christian author on a topic of this nature, but I love this book and I love this line in particular. This line reminds me of that popularised Rumi quote where he says that we are, “the universe in ecstatic motion” [2], telling us not to act so small for this very reasoning. I really like this thought that we are all part of this great cosmic dance, and of course I have to call it, existence that is, a dance when discussing Sufi mystics. It is such a wonderful notion and it simultaneously produces so much meaning and so much insignificance.

As much as I think I believe in nothing, I do get a lot of solace from spiritual literature like this. This idea of existence as a dance, an unravelling, a great doing and undoing, as everything and nothing all at once makes me think, well, if we are everything, if we are the universe in ecstatic motion then is there a point to all of this? If we are so expansive and so reduced, so present and so absent, is there any sense to it all? My brain comes to Alan Watts here, an interesting fellow, who said, upon realising a messy meaningless to it all that, “you only go on, if the game is worth the gamble” [3]. His idea is that, well it might all be nothing, but it might also be everything, so maybe it is best to hedge one’s bets, and to be honest, if that is all one has to go on, it is a pretty safe choice to carry on. One of my favourite nuggets of wisdom which Watts ever gave was this:

The meaning of life is just to be alive. It is so plain and so obvious and so simple. And yet, everybody rushes around in a great panic as if it were necessary to achieve something beyond themselves.” [4]

I really like that last part, “as if it were necessary to achieve something beyond themselves”, but when one comes to that in a time of grief, at a time when a part of oneself feels gone insofar as the other was not fully where they were and the self not fully where I was, we were in the crossing between one another; we decentred each other in such a way that I was a part of the other and the other a part of me, we were both part of the same whole. As connected beings who constantly live in the in-between as we pull on each other’s gravity and motion, how are we meant to not grasp out beyond ourselves in such a futile manner when part of ourselves is always beyond us? Can I ever be content as incomplete? There is this beautiful episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation called The Chase where the character of the Ancient Humanoid says, “there is something of us in each of you, and so, something of you in each other” [5] and it is this point right here: I may hate the “they live on in you” spiel, but we exist in the other, and they exist in us, constantly decentred in one another’s gravity and motion. We are not just one person, we never really could be. We are forever made and remade by the other, reaching beyond ourselves until they are necessity, so that when you lose them, when they are “unmasked”, as Lewis would phrase it, it is as though an amputation takes place.

In speaking of becoming “unmasked” in death from Lewis and weaving through Watts, I am reminded of Gold Leaves by G. K. Chesterton, who Watts would often quotes in his lectures. It is a beautiful hymn which is ultimately about growing old and finding God in everything, and although I am not religious I do adore this hymn for its message as I seek to find that certain magic in everything. I often sit and marvel at the fact that those clouds of atoms may do the beautiful things they do in the moment that they do them, and the certain magic in knowing the impermanence to it all, it only makes it all the more precious. As I have it memorised, and as it is so very beautiful, I will leave you with Gold Leaves today:

Lo! I am come to autumn,
When all the leaves are gold;
Grey hairs and golden leaves cry out
The year and I are old.

In youth I sought the prince of men,
Captain in cosmic wars,

Our Titan, even the weeds would show
Defiant, to the stars.

But now a great thing in the street
Seems any human nod,
Where shift in strange democracy
The million masks of God.

In youth I sought the golden flower
Hidden in wood or wold,
But I am come to autumn,
When all the leaves are gold.


Live Long & Prosper


References

[1] Lewis, C. (1961). A Grief Observed. Faber & Faber.

[2] In Your Light – Rumi by st64. Hello Poetry. (2014). Retrieved 28 November 2021, from https://hellopoetry.com/poem/610590/in-your-light-rumi/.

[3] Watts, A. (1960). A Game That’s Worth the Candle. Musixmatch.com. Retrieved 28 November 2021, from https://www.musixmatch.com/lyrics/Alan-Watts/A-Game-That-s-Worth-the-Candle.

[4] Watts, A. (1989). The Culture of Counter-Culture: Edited Transcripts (Love of Wisdom). Tuttle Publishing.

[5] Roddenberry, G. (Writer), Menosky, J (Writer), Moore R. D. (Writer), & Frakes, F (Director). (1993, April 26th). The Chase (Season 6, Episode 20) [Television series episode]. In Berman, R. (Executive Producer), Star Trek: The Next Generation. Paramount Television.

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