The Art of Dying

Life Force

It’s winter. We’re up north. It is quite late at night. I am sitting by the small gray Formica-top writing desk facing the eastern window. It is pitch black outside and I can see my reflection in the glass, lighted both from the side by what light spills upward from the small desk lamp and from below by its reflection from the papers on the desk. It’s an eerie image. I’m not that eerie.

To my right, below me, in the large, recently constructed, 220 cm x 220 cm and only a foot or so off the floor bed sleeps Marie. We’re done talking for the night and she’s had more of her fill of my casting about for answers, answers, answers. I’ve worn her out, again. I should feel sorry for her, but I’m too self-occupied to spare such feelings. What sorry I possess I’ve allotted to myself, and I sip from it now and then, sometimes more heavily than others. The answer I am looking for eludes me.

She is beautiful girl, Marie. Well, a woman now. She must be twenty-one at this point, a year older than I am. She doesn’t really understand what happened to me last summer in Helsingborg, no not really. God knows I’ve tried to tell her, tried to share, tried to make her see why I can no longer live my life as if that had never happened, why I can no longer agree with convention and live a life she and most others would consider normal.

What I have not told her yet is that I don’t think I can live with her either. Nor with any woman. Helsingborg changed all that. Love of womankind has no true place in the future I see. But, no, I have not told her that, not yet.

Right now, with Marie asleep and the snow a meter deep outside, I am pondering life force.

I might seem fascinated by my reflection in the window, but I don’t really see it. What I see are two images in my mind: one is an elephant, the other is an amoeba.

The elephant is huge, the amoeba is miniscule.

They are both alive.

They are both filled with life force. Livingness. Aliveness. The phenomenon called Life.

And as I look at these life forms, what strikes me is that you can neither see nor quantify this livingness, this life force. It’s not an eye, or an ear, or a lung. It’s not the heart or the brain. And it’s not really a force. Life force is a little misleading. It’s a phenomenon.

A phenomenon.

The long floorboard heater groans a little as it springs to life again. It is very cold outside and the heater is on more often than not to keep us warm here inside. Makes for dry air, though. I hear a mouse rustle about in one of the walls. The poor thing must be cold.

A phenomenon. Life-phenomenon.

The elephant is alive, the amoeba is alive. This they have in common. This is the quality, the feature they share. Of course, of course the elephant’s physique and metabolism dwarfs the amoeba’s, of course it does. But what about their life forces? Are they different? Does life force have a size? Is this phenomenon quantifiable? Or is it purely a case of either/or?

Alive or not.

Looking and looking at this, what I see now, and very clearly — approaching epiphany — is that the phenomenon life is equally present in the amoeba and the elephant. It is a case of either/or.

Invisible to the eye, unmeasurable on the scale, yet equally present.

Life then, is not physical. Not in the least. The phenomenon is weight- and size-less and either occupies or not the physical organism. When it is present the organism is alive, when it is not, the organism (or table, or stone, or record collection) is dead.

Yes, I am convinced of this.

I almost wake Marie to tell her about this, but she sleeps so soundly, so sweetly, that I let her sleep.

The mouse rustles again. There are probably more than one. The house is old and the walls quite hollow in places. They must be hugging the inner walls for warmth and comfort. Poor things. Marie doesn’t like them though, is even a little afraid of them.

Life force.

And that is why a fly can be a fly this life and a human being the next; for what travels in Samsara is unmeasurable.


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Raised by trolls in northern Sweden, now settled on the California coast a stone’s throw south of the Oregon border. Here I meditate and write.

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Ulf Wolf

Raised by trolls in northern Sweden, now settled on the California coast a stone’s throw south of the Oregon border. Here I meditate and write.