Our suffering, our deaths, our births.
Our rituals. It is not our acceptance of the falling apart, but our embrace of entropy, that breathes for us. We are maintained in our emotional homeostasis by our rituals. It is, as we are taught by our small heroes in Lord of the Rings, the small and everyday things that keep great evil at bay. Our rituals teach us how to change through their consistency.
Two years ago now, a close friend passed away. Her body gave in to a Probability--an unlikely cancer--and she slipped quietly from our physical world and strikingly into the world of rituals. She became a death ritual.
I want to talk about the death ritual because it’s something we’re all going to encounter and embrace at some point in our lives. It’s a hard and rocky fact that as we age, the body count will only get higher. You can’t undo loss and you can’t undo experience, and you can’t learn from death and keep it from happening. You just have to see it and then figure out how to live beyond on it.
So I lost my friend, and I swear to you up and down, the entire world fell apart. In the days of her death and shortly following it, I could not be convinced away from my sense of destruction in the world. I ripped myself and everyone else apart.
There is a Buddhist teaching that suggests that we are all falling apart. Anything that has ever been put together into a system will eventually gain entropy and will engage flux--the natural world favours disorder, and we are blips of improbable systems, waiting for the improbability of our systemic organisation to catch up with us. We are waiting for the ultimate Probability, the one that will end us all.
The terror that this process creates in most of our hearts is addressed in the second part of the teaching, which recommends that we accept our ultimate probabilities. We embrace the flux--and when the flux catches us, we’re ok. Because hey, we’ve accepted it.
Now, I’m not sure that’s a realistic view of people. It seems like a teaching that fits rather well with our actual entropy, and perhaps not so well with our emotions; because what on earth is the definition of living if not the never ending fight with flux in our lives?
I felt guilty for thinking of anything but her the first anniversary of her death. So much so that I’d write poems about her just trying to reconnect with the memory of her scents and our sleep-overs and our talks. I’d post these writings to share with the community of people that had come together around the loss of her, and somehow, that sharing made her feel more alive to me. I think that’s a part of the ritual; the denial that the system is breaking down. She fell into the entropy of a Great Probability and I just could not, would not, let her go.
Then there’s the fading, and this is bound to happen with flux. The memories of that person start popping up at random times, but not at the right times. They aren’t just there on the anniversary of the passing. They float and catch you off guard. And they don’t always hurt anymore, and that itself hurts, because you have a sense that when you think of her, the world should still be falling apart. Somehow, the sense is that if the world still falls apart when you think of her, then it is static for you. Static is safer because you can’t become the entropy that took this person from you.
Gradually, however, the sense of wanting the static starts to leave, because your life starts moving forward. You have a baby, or you get married, or you graduate, or you lose 20 pounds, and suddenly you are farther along the road that she ever was, seeing pavement that she’s never seen, and you are struck with awe over the change in your life (the same change that eventually took her), and you are ok. You are ok because you’ve come back from the brink with her, and you’ve released her into the ether, and the entropy has a hold of you, and you are excited again about your Probability in this world.
See, the fading of that ritual lets us re-enter the world with a sense of moderate control over the level of change we experience in our lives. We need to fight against that flux so that we can have an experience that tells us it’s time to no longer be static. We need to be encouraged towards our entropy.
Maybe that’s what the teaching means, ultimately. We don’t just accept that the entropy is there; we walk towards it. We have faith in our systems falling apart, a faith which we create through our use of rituals.