Lets think about death today...
Let's think about death today... Charles Mudede

Because today is rather dark and gloomy in Seattle, let us use this time and mood to think about death and its citizens, the dead. Our point of departure might as well be Kyoko Hayashi, a Japanese writer who passed into the second abyss in 2017 (she exited the first one in 1930). Hayashi's most famous work in the English-speak world is From Trinity to Trinity, which was translated by Eiko Otake, a Japanese modern dancer who has called New York City her home since 1976. In Otake's introduction of the short book, which concerns the main theme of Hayashi's writing career—her being a hibakusha (a person exposed to one of the atomic bombs dropped on Japan in 1945)—she points out that the narrator of a late work by Hayashi, Human Experience That Took a Long Time (1998), is surprised that she, a hibakusha, is entering the zone of the koki (the 70th year of life). The narrator, in short, has lived longer than she and her society expected her to live.

According to Otake, Hayashi's character explains that "the shortening of a given life, not being able to live fully—this was the promise made between the atomic bomb and its victims." But when she clearly passed her mid-60s, the narrator felt joy because the promise was broken: "I did it. Now I have lived this far, I'm safe."

But a moment later, the narrator realizes that she now has to deal with death in the normal way. "There exists in front of me an ugly death," says the narrator, "the sure result of old age... This is a new death I have never imagined... This sudden arrival of the old age-death expected by average people—I did not know whether I could welcome it. This is against the promise!" How hard it is to cheat death. The safety of old age ("I made it") is an illusion. The health of youth is transitory. And above it all is the lack in life of the thing that the jazz yodeler and singer Leon Thomas (who died in 1999 at age 61) and the American icon Louis Armstrong (who died in 1971 at age 71) described as the "masterplan."


Life has no plan. This fact is made clear to Hayashi when "she found out that on August 9, Bockscar, the B-29 fighter jet that carried the atomic bomb, was heading toward the more populous city of Kokura." But bad weather nixed that plan, and the plane turned around and dropped the atomic bomb on the next big target, Nagasaki. Otake writes: "It upsets Hayashi greatly that the fate of Nagasaki, and her own fate as a hibakusha, was sealed somewhat arbitrarily." She did not choose to be alive or dead or a hibakusha.

Life, however, does have a purpose, though it's not impressive enough to satisfy the human imagination: replication. You may enter and exit life briefly, but it itself has been around for 3.7 billion years. And so, you must live knowing that you are not life, but are given it to replicate it. Or, put another way, life is borrowed. All you have for yourself is the certainty of your death. That's your very own. You do not live alone, you die alone. The rest are moments in a movement that could go on for another 3.7 billion years on this and other worlds without you. Of course, a tree stays in one place, but a forest actually moves. It can cross rivers and mountains and cover vast distances. The tree/forest relationship is the same as that between the "being of all these things" and the "absolute self-sustained Being."

This week seemed to see an usually high number of bright human beings returning what can only be borrowed. There was the groundbreaking critic, poet, musician Greg Tate—I recall dancing with my sister to the live music of his band Burnt Suger at the LO-FI Performance Gallery in 2004. The Italian director Lina Wertmüller—the first woman ever nominated for a best director Oscar, and I still have a videotape of her masterpiece, Seven Beauties. Steve Bronski of the openly gay '80s synth pop group Bronski Beat (how as a teen I loved dancing, in my gothic manner, to the beautifully sad tune "Smalltown Boy" at Archies, a nightclub in Harare).

This week also saw the departure of the Jamaican bassist and superstar Robbie Shakespeare, who, with Sly Dunbar, provided the riddim for one the greatest pop tune's ever recorded, Grace Jones' "I've Seen That Face Before (Libertango)."

And today we just lost the Monkees' songwriter and singer Michael Nesmith, whose work was not known to me in any meaningful way until Run DMC dropped their version of "Mary Mary."

Life which must have come from somewhere, and will certainly go on to a place in time and space all of us alive today will never know or see or even believe. But those alive in the future may have some memory of us, some memory of Tate's coruscating prose, Wertmüller's biting social criticism, Shakespeare's undisputed mastery of reggae's foundation. We all happened to find ourselves being here and there for now.