The Silver Cord
By Timothy Herrick
Copyright 2022, held by author
Prose Poem ~ Memoir ~ Philosophy
You know the cord is silver. Unsure of which end of the tether is tied where, but away you haul. At 25, the stride, the strength, you can tug like this forever. At 45, you admit you’re not pulling like you were at 25, but close enough. You’re wiser, more adept at pacing yourself to keep up. At 55, you dangle by one hand, the line fraying as you hope your grip stops slipping. Sooner or later all you’re seeing is silver.
The body and the soul – or is the soul the mind and the cord is the awareness in your brain of both body and mind – senses awake and dreams when asleep – I’m coping, don’t worry. I know I’m not the first to age. The body has always been a mystery to the mind, but at least for the early decades, it did so with a comprehensible logic. Fitness sustains, fucking feels good. But why must death always have its way?
Nourishment. Conditioning. Lifestyle. Nature versus nurture, nature always wins and even the postponement nurture provides is if not illusory, temporary. The hoping, the learning and doing, this effort, this spending of time… could not stop time, extend the moment, by force of will and sincerity of emotion, live in purity of experience. Why did it feel that it could? Good enough to believe if we tried again it would. Youth could stay around a little longer, eat right take walks quit cigarettes.
Is time the silver cord? We think of the cord as unaffected by time. It’s not of such ephemerality as bone, muscle or skin. Whether it’s the awareness of being that’s locked into the mind and the cord connects that awareness to an immaterial and eternal soul, or if that soul is itself the awareness and that cord connects that self to God, a heaven, an invisible world, the afterlife – the universal mind – then that connection, that cord reveals itself only after time disappears.
Eternity, the metaphysical in general, means the absence of time; what else could result from the absence of substance, this material world. If the only way to know you’ve arrived here is death, that cord is severed. Too severe an image for this concept. Not cut off, that suggest an abruptness, jab then snap… maybe that awareness reaches the end of the rope, and life is the climbing of that rope. Time ends when the tether is not needed because whatever that awareness was has returned to its destination.
But what about the body?
This silver cord – the link between the eternal and individual consciousness I’ve imagined, or believe in – or that we all know it’s true even if we agree there’s nothing we can know other than now – we can only hope it connects, for what it connects to we cannot know. But this awareness, this individual consciousness, the person living your life, is connected to another mystery, the body.
I’m not sure if this now sounds like a yoga-for-seniors brochure, but I’m not talking about feeling at one with your body. I’m neither encouraging or discouraging healthiness. The body is a fact, use your best judgement when making maintenance choices.
That collection of molecules is the opposite of thought, or at least of separate substance, an ‘other’ if not in the confliction opposition suggests.
I think therefore I am, right. The body binds us to nature, medical science can take it from there, enhance quality and extend longevity. But the organic apple and responsible fig leaf only lets us remain rational. The natural cannot protect us from nature, nor bejewel or even polish the silver just because fewer nonorganic chemicals theoretically enhance functioning.
In the short term? Must we argue nutrition? Or the need to stand barefoot in soil even it’s just dirt you keep in a hollow ottoman because you spend all day walking in the city or out of or towards your car. Or the cucumber colonic yogurt smoothie that you got on vacation and is now available in the produce aisle among fresh pomegranate juice and Kombucha.
We are of the earth, this planet we share, everything we need are in the new plants and fewer animals than we used to use. Let nature nurture.
If only the natural could free us from nature. Consciousness is the body, we wake… light and sound and breath. Ablutions, quenching thirst and hunger – the physical process of living, systems guided by nerves – we can envision the diagrams even as we conceptualize what only we are feeling. The proof we exist is this knowledge of our own bodies. Our awareness of this fact verifies the reality of nature, the cycle of life and death and birth, new life, new death, new weather…blood and enzymes… constant, cellular.
This dawning of our unique alertness to our individual physical reality reveals not only the role nature plays in our survival – the unique alertness of the self – but how that body is indeed a substance separate from us. This apparent contradiction will always plague humankind – what happens to this consciousness – this self –after the body’s inevitable demise, even the writers and thinkers who are sure they know what happens cannot explain what being sure actually means.
Well, we have all our lives to wonder why. Middle age I got in shape. In the teens and 20s there were periods of yoga and gym attendance, but never sustained. I saw the light and exercise being a daily thing, and nutrition, vitamins, high protein, low carbs. Adults didn’t discuss these things when I was a kid, but working out and eating right was as entwined with popular culture as talk shows and politics by my adulthood. I was in better shape at 40 than I was at 25. Weight training was my favorite.
Getting and maintaining this routine wasn’t easy for me. Starting’s easy, who has time to sustain. Offices and bars filled my time but suddenly – okay, so it wasn’t suddenly but it was over a contained two- or three-year period – where the waistline added two inches every six months and I was wheezing walking up the stairs.
I hated gym class and sports growing up, I was allowed only to be a boy scout or altar boy – my father was a scout master and my mother a devout catholic and they didn’t want to drive me anywhere they didn’t want to go. As a teen us stoners hated jocks with good reason, they hated us.
Exercise is boring, even more boring than talking about fitness, nutrition and health. Except, it’s the opposite of boring to think or talk about when you are in that space with like-minded folks reading like-minded magazines… at least for a little while.
Accepting the tedium of the routine, that was part of the process, a Zen-like focus on the immediate. The body responded too, the metabolism running high and organs functioning unimpaired through those middle decades. In the mirror watching a muscle, the biceps swell with each movement, seeing what you’re feeling, concentrating on counting… I worked the arms, shoulders, back and chest the most… a whole routine, designed by a certified trainer.
Two or more hours three days a week, cardio other days… but it was how the blood in my muscles felt in my brain that furthered my pondering of how distant we are from the body.
Here I am, child of God, perspiring from every pore, burning calories like a torch wielding zealot cleansing the village by fire. No pain, no gain. You damage cells, the recovery is when muscle builds. Whey protein shakes with a banana within 45 minutes of your last stretch. I never did the steroids, but I can see their appeal. Creatinine and amino acids, but that was only for two, three years – things work or seem to until they don’t – shakes and a high protein diet, that lasted for more than a decade, the supplements went through different fads, I liked vitamins.
Obviously, narcissism has qualities I believe are virtues. Still, my upper body looked spectacular, and not just compared to most guys who spend most hours of most days sitting at a desk tapping a keyboard and talking on the phone or reading material that required additional tapping and talking.
I couldn’t resist loving my reflection. I would so fuck you… if you weren’t me.
But it wasn’t just about achieving a personal best in beauty. The discipline and commitment came from somewhere else – partially good sense, healthy of body, healthy of mind. These were very productive years, stress like I never imagined when I started the career. Busy all the time. Regular exercise and good habits enhanced productivity and alleviated stress.
That over-generalized sentiment – you feel better – only soundbites the depth of a nonverbal introspection the experience of muscle induces – so, with exercise routines of any kind, enthusiasm ebbs and flows. But those periods when there’s no ebbing, only flow. Years after you commit to working out, many, many months of regular activity and high-protein dieting, then you’re in a groove where nothing is more energizing or euphoric than completing your daily gym routine.
Work and life going well, regular hours and solvable worries. You easily keep a steady pace during your weight routine, no lollygagging. You’re so motivated you have to force yourself to rest the extra minute between sets.
For the barbell curling bar … sets of ten reps… clenched and sweating and you do the extra five reps adding the 2.5 pounder weights, boosting up the cellular wrecking for one final sting – the peak of the muscle, you try to count out five but it’s really till exhaustion… two, three, three and a half. That topping off, I could see that difference – firmer definition protruding… yes next time in the mirror at the gym, but in the shower or wearing a black Henley t-shirt top button unbuttoned.
Male beauty, masculinity…anything to distract from the receding hairline and widening bald spot…. but it was the feeling of muscle making – of being so immersed in the body that all alertness focuses on the specific grouping of muscle tissue pulsating with the blood that by moving my arm, I’m making flow. I was reminded of this feeling of blood when my musculature was admired by myself or somebody else.
I tricked the body with excessive repetitive motion and skinless chicken breasts. Muscles are one of the joys of life, you really feel alive when you’re pumped up. But, I wasn’t the muscle. The muscle would not exist without me, but my awareness of it is not the same as the matter that forms it. The more that it feels like your body is pure vigor, the more understandable the un-crossable extent of the divergence between that feeling and the physical fact causing that feeling.
At one, all our lives… we want to be at one with the body. When you’re young and healthy and engaged in healthy activities, that oneness seems accessible, a plausible way to explain the pleasure your body is experiencing. But it’s an illusion. The dichotomy separating us from our bodies is as vast as the chasm between the visible and the invisible world and some people don’t even believe in the invisible world and people who do can’t prove it exists because… well, it’s invisible.
Always the contradiction, life contains the inverse. The dichotomy…. to even know that the body and mind are separate but often feel like one demonstrates the very reason why being one is not an option, it’s a deception.
The body is nature and nature has no friends.
Perhaps there’s a zoologist or other animal expert who could point out precedents in the animal kingdom, who knows what evolved from where. But other than some species of birds and mammals who care for their young – or the herds and packs and flocks that form out of mutual interest and overlapping genetic codes – friendship is a human thing.
Your mind needs friends way more than your body, besides. Your mind is incidental to your body. Their conversations are always one sided. All I think about is you and you never care about me. The digestive system can be obnoxiously inconsiderate.
The resentment deepens the mystery. I live in a time before medical science can replace the physical form with cybernetic components. At 50 I had a heart attack and contracted diabetes. Instead of oneness with my body, the duality was inescapable. You’re a spectator, or at best, custodian. Don’t ask questions, just clean up, keep it going. It’s tedium and drudgery, made even more irritating by the relentless insistence on positive attitude. Upbeat mental state essential to healing.
Such as, don’t worry, but it could be kidney disease.
I try, cooperate as best I can. Gracious patient. I immediately squelch whining when I notice my voice change; even when wry, I’m pleasant to all staff. I try to hide that I’m sad the vigor faded and angry that nothing can stop the natural decay within us all.
I’m reassured. Try not to take the humiliation personally, all bodies do this.
Dentistry especially… remember that root canal, deeply numb, the drilling, the procedure – no agony like oral pain, certainly an ultimate universal – but the mind’s eye was seeing as if its camera was on the ceiling and you’re seeing you and the operation – more vivid your mind imagining, and imaging – you feel your open mouth traumatized, medically whatever this is not about jargon or patient attitude – but the distance – and how the visualization of that distance resembles the dichotomies of the mind and the body – is the same as checking your blood-pressure or blood sugar translating other facts into numbers that determine pharmacology. We’re watching our body because it’s as separate from our awareness of self as it is from the professionals doing the prodding and poking and testing.
Kneel, I kneel but the status of your cardiovascular system remains unchanged no matter how strong your force of will. The primordial basis of freewill is to physically manifest intent – i.e. move your body – but that same intent cannot affect your kidney or gallbladder. That is unjust, another irony of the human condition, something science will solve, but with cloned implants before miraculous levels of telekinesis.
It’s the only difference between the mind and body dichotomy and the silver cord; the body is almost as much a mystery to the mind as the mind to the soul, used in this context as the individual connection to the invisible world. Yes, biology and medicine and science demystify the body. Understanding how the meat engine works just as well as you do a fuel-injected, eight-cylinder Pontiac may help adherence to medical instructions. But when what you’re trying to know is you, nature is the body’s only concern, the best kept secret in town and even when accepted makes no difference.
The silver cord is an analogy, silver culturally having spiritual, even supernatural connotations and cord is a wire or a necklace, connecting device with energy source or clasping the lock to complete the circle… heaven, afterlife, this nothingness.
I’m Catholic… purgatory and hell… angels, personal God… I believe in a very Judeo-Christian Western explanation of the visible and the invisible. You can look it all up online and get the gist of this faith, because that is all that mine is, because that is all it can be.
I cite this dogma as an example of the afterlife only to help visualize the metaphysical utility of the silver cord. We do not know, are unable to know – because we are only human – what is after the body, after we die.
See, it doesn’t matter what I believe or you believe or even if you don’t believe – even no afterlife, nothingness –the negation is the same as the thing itself. Something we cannot know has to be explained and if you conclude a no comment, that only supports the assertion that nothingness is still a state of being. The sliver cord is that self, that other substance riding on the breath of life, that essence that is you, subject to the cycles and the whims of nature but not itself of nature.
Believers like me have faith that a somewhat specific immaterial world and what happens after you die are in the same place… lots of clouds, halos for lamps, harps. The point is not those specifics, but the general principal that there’s an invisible world, even if it’s only the logical conclusion that if there’s a visible world, there must be an invisible one.
Do all individual consciousness go universal, the collective post-self? Or does the individual consciousness remain self-aware for eternity? Or is just nothing, gone.
Coping through faith or family or medication enables coping long enough to squelch the anxiety from this inability to fully know so you can get on with the day-to-day, attempt to complete whatever task at hand. Be your best. Making it through life with the worry and stress and disappointment. Didn’t come out as expected but I often doubted I’d ever live this long and I feel gratitude. Maybe you’re admitting to a higher power like many in recovery swear by. That’s the silver cord.
Not fear of death or psychological healing, too simplistic – yet, all that and more – what makes up a life, a self – if I could come up with a trademark, design stuffed housewares with witty texts I could create a silver cord cult, at least a following with the right content.
But accepting this unknown as nothing seems not something to work at or improve. Why dwell on the cord, or these dichotomies.
Were we alienated in nature by consciousness, whose natural expression is civilization?
Or was civilization the gradual result of forming groups then together formed alliances with others, from tribal territory to nation-state – who is ally or invader realigns with time – but mammals like us need togetherness to survive – modern society with its technologies and systems both handheld and socio-political alienates us from each other, thus our true selves. Civilization causes a disconnection, we’re alienated by modern society. Accepting more nature into our lives will ease the anxiety contemporary life causes.
As children, we’re self-aware, toilet trained and able to recall dreams. Does maturation mean at some point there’s no dichotomy between the body and mind, an animal state, where it’s all instinct, eat and grow – does the divergence gradually grow through infancy, or is the split as sudden as birth, or so pernicious to be prenatal. All good questions, the need to pinpoint exactly might help us get back to what must be paradise.
Knowing there’s a point though, a moment where your world was one way and then it was another – that this transition is not sudden, but a passage – and by knowing having a memory – however vague and inarticulate – even a blank spot where that memory would be – a sign that a soul exists before birth or that this melding lingers in the first days when life is new.
There’s a lot of folklore about babies having some kind of knowledge of the other side, what old women whisper to young mothers.
We had no worries before we were born and after we die we hope for the same. Returning to the void looks the same from here. After death seems a lot like before birth, from the perspective of a witness at least. Here today, gone tomorrow and that yesterday when you were not here felt a lot like here after you had gone, other than knowing your absence.
This silver cord then is not just our tether, it’s time. For our awareness of the body is the moment by moment reality we can only suppress until we can’t.
Does it hurt when you move this or when I touch that? The body is not you but you know it best, thus we agree that the knowing is not the thing known.
Life as some sort of journey seems the most apt summary, the body is the lens, the vessel, the sonar system, documenting if not here or wherever is there but the act of documentation – life as is lived is within this deceptive shell. We think about the body because thought is our only defense – which is the wrong word, it’s not a war and we’re not victims, no clash to protect from – another there it is moment – the body doesn’t care what the mind knows and the mind knows the only certainty is the body. No matter what we think, nature wins.
By thinking, we’re doing something the body cannot. Nature is change, holds power over us all no matter what we do or think or dream or contemplate. Continue to invent all the crap to delay death, even improve quality of life. No bionic phobia here. I’m pro drugs. Pharmacology saved me, it could save you.
But if nature is a consciousness – at least a collective energy that resembles a collective consciousness for lack of a better, more demonstrable example – it is not one composed of thought – not verbal or visual– instinct is not without an idea, survival logic – and one might say that is thought, albeit trite to anyone but the being experiencing instinct. Then, is every bodily function equal to the intellect just by the fact you feel it occur? Instinct is just what we call an aspect of survival: the impulse to preserve the cycle of life, the species, genetic code – it’s observed behavior that we use the word instinct to explain.
Is not the heart beating instinct, unconscious and involuntary as it may be? In fact, that is why this thinking increases over time, as we age, we think more. We have more memories, more conversations. Wiser who knows, smarter though in some ways… there’s more and more to ponder.
You win body, but I’ll be going down holding onto what you can never know. The silver cord.
We can know substance, but substance can never know us, or anything that it’s not.
But… the body is a mystery to the mind and it’s within the mind where our self our soul or our awareness of our self and hope that equals the soul resides. The sliver cord is hope that whatever oblivion to which its tied contains love and answers. Our bodies walk the lonesome valley, but the soul and the self are an out-of-body relationship.
Mystery is mystery and if the symbiotic relationship with the physical and the self is just as unknowable as the silver cord from which the immaterial world we souls dangle, then those two relationships must have more in common with each other than just a nexus point of self.
When the body goes, you go. The cord metaphor is easy to see, the body holds on to us or we hold on to it and then you let go or the rope breaks – then the cord pulls the self to the other shore or whatever collectively identifiable imagery best conveys sanctuary. But aren’t we walking that cord all of life; this tightrope is our existence, the blood and the magic only silver can contain.
Information, feelings, relationships, skills, competencies – this bundle of elements making up what we can distinguish as our identity and shapes much of what we can agree is our inner life – we gain knowledge as our body strengthens then declines… well good years and better years until the half century mark where after it’s measured in months until they keep getting worse… but always the same self, the same body… not that it doesn’t change, it’s all about change… but we always experience the change through one channel, new pictures in the same frame but we see the frame as much as whatever of the world it shows us. Inevitably, this argues there’s limits to social understanding, objective versus subjective with subjectivity winning and objectivity always tainted by the telling.
The body, the collection of molecules, this batch of nature we share in this moment or documented in the past let’s search the archive, that’s the fact that measures the utility of all experience. If that is all we know for sure, it’s still the only proof the silver cord has a loop to clip. Be in this world not of this world warns the prophetic and the holy, but the world is the body, just ask the next global pandemic.
Our distance is not just us from the body, but from the means of production – society and class and race – the physical is what we share, the mortality and this moment – the public space. Humanity, those bodies, our bodies… you know, strangers. With their own awareness, their own silver cords.
If this nature and this invisible world are both made evident by the fact of the body, then what else do they have in common? Instinct can only be demonstrated, it’s an idea used to describe behavior. Words do the same for thoughts and dreams. These intangibles, are they not the very stuff of the immaterial world, preternatural carbon. This silver cord, thin jewelry chain, behaves much like the body to the mind as the mind to the self or soul.
Flesh… we kiss you, we soothe you, we bleed you… but to know you, we can never be you and you are oblivious to what we know or what we are unable to know. The infinite, the invisible world, the immaterial… call it what you will, it’s no less indifferent. I believe in a personal God, and that God is love. You can believe in whatever has convinced you, those specifics are not important, even supreme being omnipresence. We live in a material world, that means there’s an immaterial world and the only example of what an immaterial world existing would look like are dreams, thoughts, ideas and by extension their expression thereof.
This body, our physicality… one day one-way, next day new way… next day, lesser way… if this journey of life are interlocked episodes its through-line is the body…
Let the DNA codes spiral like ceiling drop streamers!
For the mind and the body can agree on one mutually verifiable-but-in-different-ways truth – time. Most of us grow as individuals, we benefit from time. Make the most of it knowing by its seemingly endless nature we’re only allotted so much and with each allotment you always worry what next will get fucked up.
That knowing and still continuing, is that the divine? Nature continues, regardless … think of that first blade of grass finally popping through the layer of ash after an eon of nuclear winter… let’s go with God, a supreme being, an intelligence if not indifferent, inexplicably arbitrary, God created nature to continue, a vast ecology of recyclable mortality, God is not the creation, or is the creation if God is everywhere but that also means He’s whatever isn’t nature too.
Believers in a personal God, proponents are often confronted with this quandary: If God is a loving God, why did He drown my grandmother and her entire village with a tsunami or was it wild fire that scorched the entire valley into lifelessness. Earthquake. Why is nature so mean?
Alas, it’s a mystery. I have different rants anyway. But isn’t the often parallel relationship between God and Nature similar to our own inner balance… the human being, the self who is a soul and all that entails and this body in which we’re entrapped, a dichotomy literally embodied. Nature, living matter, sustainable ecosystems… even if random something divine surely seems involved… something not nature, something that made sense and led to this moment and beyond.
Miracles aside, maybe nature is to God what our bodies are to us – arbitrary reality.
For nature to be, who-or-whatever created nature must exist. Technology is not nature, but that came long after millions of eons of only nature. Eventually the manmade could be an ultimate game changer, could be next month or five hundred years from now and will depend on exactly how technology and mass behaviors interact, but I honestly cannot fathom technology alone solving our environmental woes, much less dictating terms and conditions to nature.
Meaning, it probably won’t for me because personal computers, internet, smart phones, that all came after my adulthood. I adapted, some cases faster than others. Those adapted earlier, or so early there was no adapting needed, they pushed me aside years ago.
The way it is was all they knew, fluent soon after toddlerhood. They’re more likely to experience whatever interface the silver chain could have with the communication speed and connectivity available today, then it will depend on not what software and products you mastered before puberty, but what generation of software and product. Adeptness is as crucial as it is gradient.
Honestly though, I don’t believe that day will ever come, not in any way we can think of now at least. I’m neither excited nor threatened by technology, I just am overly convinced of its limitations and have been proven wrong time and time again, personally and professionally.
But if it would come, then it would channel that self, that you, project it as it does with data, archived but still whatever is this body that is how you verify life. Nature demands from us to die but before you do be fruitful and multiply if you get around it to it, and if there’s room and money for food. We tell our bodies to do no harm. Our body in turn nags: make more bodies.
That awareness though, the duality commonality that is what comprises the self – that is aware of the body by knowing it is not the body – that enables the love in your heart – you show others and how and how much love depends on who is this specific other is to you. Communication technology enables more intimacy all the time, so being personal and unguarded has never been easier with each other.
Encouragement, positive thinking, suicidal awareness…. Those sentiments are easy to encapsulate in any format –short, direct, to-the-point and what used to be called punchy… love, healing – we’ve all been traumatized, emphasize caring. You’re not bad at being terse, what’s old can always be new again if you wait long enough.
Too much to think about, be goal oriented. I hear you, life is complicated, we’re all barely keeping it together.
You raise some good points, but your nuance is not helpful.
Focus on what isn’t blurry, anything peripheral ignore. It’s about skills, not knowledge. Too much knowledge is unproductive. Knowledge should be used as needed, archives never more accessible. Only do the reading you have to, better just to scan the summary like everyone else.
It’ll make you sound more positive.
You can call me negative, your optimism as steadfast as pride.
Mother Earth, Father Sky?
Menstruating, giving birth – swell, you’re accepting the otherness – but not the dichotomy, the very opposite. I’m going to say it… oneness. The self with the body, the body as a vessel of nature, and yes even, no especially… the awareness of the self as a substance distinct from itself and its own awareness.
Nature perpetuates,,, that’s its unyielding force. A woman’s biology may contain more of those forces, and when we do feel that unique alertness to this power, it’s overwhelming because if not the secret of the universe – certainly the purpose of nature – but the body now, we’re the same age… it’s distance anyway. A stranger in shape and substance we’ve known all our life, through whom we know life at all. Do you really feel at one with that?
Some days yes, some days no, but all days it doesn’t care what I feel or what I think about what I feel. Staying alive, healthy, being organic… or yes, okay your western medicine… being involved and proactive with that health seems a more sensible manner in which to traverse mortality than dwelling on the social and psychological stratum of alienation.
Not everybody has survived. Age is just a number. Have we ever seriously talked about your diet? Maybe if you can just talk about what we eat and how that’s what we are than the weariness and dwindling will not seem so acute.
Why can’t you just make the best of it, or just say that for now?
How do you know that’s not what I’m doing. I’m trying my best. I assure you I eat a lot of plants. I don’t have it in me. I’m not feeling it anymore, I’m just pretending.
You had me convinced, don’t belittle the power to present you still possess. Those increments of decay build up, rancidness dimly twinkles. I have a cream for the lines and another for the wrinkles.
This distance from the body, like a television that’s on in another room you can’t avoid the show. Tests and rests and you realize you’re ten years older than the grandparents when they died from the very ailments you’ve now medicated into a stalemate. Won’t last of course, but you know that if they can keep you alive longer than those forebears who carried the same genetic fate, a cure will become available in the generic prescriptions the insurance covers. Well, a pill that will keep it at bay longer than previous treatments, long enough to die of something else. Isn’t that close enough to a cure?
You know what’s infuriating… you’ll never get the cure, but you’ve been treating and healing and rehabbing and yes… dieting and lifestyle… you see that progress has been made to keep you alive longer now than someone your age ten years ago, but not enough to keep you alive as long as the technology and pharmacology they’re now developing will. Unlike previous generations, who died resigned, confident that they did as much as they could, we’re dying knowing that if I were you when you get to be this age I wouldn’t be dying.
That’s time too, isn’t it. We have more than just our memory of the decades we’ve lived, we now have the vast archive of the internet, libraries and networks and wiki. I remember the search engine being praised as useful to a writer as the invention of the pick axe, but it’s gone far beyond mere tool. It’s more than just the device to extract, it’s even more than gold – it’s also the mine to get the gold and the mountain in which the mine is carved.
The cultural and the personal and the persona you project in emails, posts and platforms, alongside and as accessible as the ever expanding archive of past and present knowledge has changed our relationship with the silver cord… for it is a relationship, whatever immateriality the physical metaphorically holds onto…
But, now that self has more layers and contexts, digital extensions flickering somewhere in some database forever… that is, time. Not quite like memory though, a memory of you or them. They only last a generation or two, until everybody’s dead whose had that memory, maybe passed along as a tale down through family members.
My father would tell us of John Henry Herrick who got frostbite at Bunker Hill or his son, Henry Herrick who got his head blown off in Canada during the War of 1812. I remember those names, assume they were bald… and that passes for what I know about them, other than the contexts of American history… the wars, the most significant timeline markers… my father fought in World War II, his father in World War I… a family tradition lost on me, nonetheless my identity had some historical basis.
It’s not about the name or the individuals who survived being fodder in causes they believed in, how much is there to know – still waiting for that Wikipedia assignment to fund the research into records – these were just stories to tell the family, especially at holidays when more of the family is at one place and the flag was usually flown when my father was alive.
Anything about their lives, no. Just two details – severe frostbite – we’re taught the army was so poor at that point they bravely wrapped rags around their feet because the congress hadn’t paid for boots – and the fatal explosion, one of the few American war casualties in Canada.
I wonder how much more there was to the story my father heard, presumably he was told by his father or grandfather or other older relative – my father fought in World War II, do the Math – the person who told him about John Henry and Henry was probably told about them by someone who probably knew them and so on and so forth until no probably about it. Trace through centuries fast enough and see it’s not far off to be inexplicable. How can it not be factually true?
My older siblings do the whole family tree thing, which is a natural outgrowth of an interest in history my parents, but especially my father, instilled in us all. I know of another name, Albert Herrick, who fought for the union during the civil war, but nothing else, not footwear or cause of death. My brother has contacted groups with the last name, even travelled to England to some estate. There’s a coat of arms and everything.
A lot more names than John Henry, Henry and Albert to be known, but no stories worth preserving. We fought at the founding, then we fought for the north. That’s what was instilled. Our forebears may have been immigrants like the grandparents of everyone else in town, but they were colonists first. Their 18th & 19th centuries were spent making America.
My mother’s side was worse, no story other than the uncles and aunts, not deep past. My father had no siblings, his parents passed on well before I was born. My mother had siblings, but we only knew the aunts and uncle and they discussed family history other than their own lives, they never mentioned any names, nobody serving in transformative violence.
That generation didn’t have the same roots awareness. My siblings can go on obsessive rabbit-holes on those ancestry websites, even if my father lived to see the internet, he wouldn’t be using it for that. Besides, adults weren’t as friendly with children like they are now. Besides, you get them to talking, more likely something could trigger. Cut it short and go to your room.
I wonder if the stories of our patriotic progenitors ever included more than a name and a tidbit, like when that Herrick first told the story my father eventually told us, at least basic facts. Bravery, glory or were they usual… good guy, father, brother, son whatever.. upstanding member of the community, provider… oh, and did you also know John Henry served in Canada… or was that Henry?
Some say that’s the only afterlife. Since we know memory exists, any other realm is only speculation. The people who knew you die, but your memory of them does not. The decades following death are when this afterlife flourishes, frequent recollections among survivors, everyone who knew you tells somebody about you.
Unless you get a statue built or a library named after you, the funeral and the weeks immediately subsequent are the peak. The weakness of memory fades away your heaven, eventually they’ll be no one who knew you left and those who they told are remembering like we all do, in terms of priority, applicability to their lives, and free associative likelihood, which probably will not be whatever they heard about someone they never met.
Unless they hear something quirky or touching, then maybe one more however insignificant whiff of ongoing relevance. Not your life story, only you get that, right. A glimmer of you can be contained in a mere second hand quip if it is funny even if tragic, probably more than one thing too, clever but original.
Stronger impression, fewer people…. I have a feeling that will be me… but some variation on an obvious paradigm. I guess we hope for this – not that it keeps me up at night – well, some nights actually – or hope we’re living in such a manner that might make this more likely – regardless of what is the afterlife we actually believe on faith.
This one we know will exist… not that we know what memory they’ll have, although we can make a good guess in some cases,,, but that memories of you… since you have memories it’s likely everyone else does, but also people talk about you all the time, as a friend but in business relationships, work and career and adulthood interaction… we know we flicker when we’re not there through others now, memory’s more lasting one guesses.
That little bit of soul, an increment by association. An impression of your consciousness lingering, somewhere in the collective human mind but made by your body or possibly by our body, your presence and the nature it contains… the same dichotomy as the silver cord –as long as blood flowed into a conscious mind a ripple somewhere sometime can linger… a few more decades, well into the next century.
The very select last as long as a name and sparsest of anecdotes like John Henry, Henry and Albert, most of us stick around only until immediate friends and families die. The internet, the network of archives, at least can go deep, our traces and work stored in servers somewhere… data lasts forever, that’s a faith, still highly plausible. The eternal, well for as long as the planet lasts but the availability of the information enriches the personal memory – there’s other stuff to know about the deceased someone mentioned, not that knowing it has much value beyond the connection, but knowing traces exist gives a feeling of eternity, a whiff, a half-whistle, paper cut. It’s not collective or individual consciousness, but it wouldn’t exist unless an individual was involved, and certainly this collective mind either is mirrored by the internet, or the internet suggests the only collectivity that might resemble the structure of the universal consciousness.
History is the story of the past. Monuments, documents, and other markers… context to explain life at this moment – memory may be essential but as any historian will tell you, memory is unreliable, insufficient as sole basis for constructing a true story about the past.
Without the past, how we can understand the world? But how much can history enable us to understand other than enough to inform political decisions… so we make life a little easier… for me, for you, for the people we know, for everyone?
Learn enough history so we can explain history? We want to understand the world, but all we get are stories to go on and our life to lead, eventually understanding the world has very little effect on your life. You’re born and you die and you have nothing to say about where or when for the being born part, and mostly for the death part – and then it’s only when and where options at best.
The world is just a context for your memories and your body to create new ones. Let’s create new ones to share, at least it won’t be so lonely.
I had lots of vigor when it could be obtained. I kept up the exercise years after the diabetes and the heart attack, until the unrelenting arthritis proved too much for even the pharmaceutical ibuprofen, I continued my routine, but the weight I steadily decreased – soon no free weights at all, just the machines.
More weight, less reps, less weight, more reps. I used to switch between each, and the muscles responded. That skin deep texture was gone, no response, other than a new flurry and location of ache. My metabolism had aged. It wasn’t hopeless, gym going was still fun and worthwhile.. but those Born in The USA arms that waved goodbye to youth and embraced middle age with assured courage finally succumbed.
I had figured out the world and our value to it.
Maybe if it hurried up sometimes everything physical being fleeting might be easier to accept. The degradation of muscle was irrevocable, but it wasn’t the muscle’s fault. It was the body. Get your medical class rocks off somewhere else, but protein was no longer being metabolized into tissue. No new muscle was growing, what I could only do was slow the advance by maintaining.
The body was hooked to the endorphin and I loved the gym, made friends among the neighbors.
I fought the good sustaining fight as far as I could, but it was like the muscle evaporated through my pores.
Oh body, I implored. Why have you forsaken me?
Dude, we forsake everybody.
I grew up in a guilt inducing world. My parents were old school, I was five out six. Don’t forget to blame yourself. Did you do your best every minute? You could’ve started exercising a few years earlier, avoided the meth and coke binges, the cigarettes.
I also could have had health insurance so I could have regular medical visits. I went more than a decade with a physical exam. Not all jobs offered it and I couldn’t afford it on my own, and thank God for Obamacare now. I didn’t worry about it, nothing I could’ve done about it and I felt good and had health habits and I didn’t need reminders about quitting cigarettes.
The body is still here, it’s still me, still remembers what used to be. The physical feels like luggage, sometimes an overstuffed trunk strapped closed with old belts and bungee straps, other times a satchel with textbooks, laptop and a seven pound dumbbell.
You have to carry it everywhere, best just to lay down as much as you can. I’d prefer not to detail the digestion issues, but it’s an opera – loud and long and in a language you don’t understand – the simple biology of living becomes more arduous every day.
No more oneness, thank God…. but something sadly akin. The dichotomy between the soul-as-self-in-the-mind and the realities of the body as manifestation of nature is often vast. The self can soar to new heights even as the body molders, but eventually you are the body. You are the ache, the pain, the suffering.
Arlene, my sister-in-law whom I loved dearly, died of cancer. Her last days, she was childlike. Barely lucid, deeply medicated. Her eyes sparkled in way I never saw before, smiling glowing. Was this not the silver cord shining through? If it connects the body to the soul, and the soul to the self – at these moments, the cord is closer than ever to the body. Given how frail the disease made her, more cord than body if the brightness of her eyes were any gauge.