“I would have made you immortal.”
Life is a meditative practice that brings us continually closer to the truth of death. Sometimes death slips out of sight for long sun-warmed stretches of time, and then we walk into a sudden wall of it, icy and irrevocable and insurmountable. Sometimes we feel wise and smug about death, sometimes we fear it and are glad it's never going to happen to us. Sometimes it seems easier than living, sometimes it's a great tragedy, and sometimes it's the best thing that could happen. Me, I feel most at peace with death when I'm perfectly happy and feel I've produced worthwhile fruit that will live on after me. I think, “well, I would prefer not to, but if I died after this, it would be ok, because I've had this beautiful moment, and I've made this beautiful thing that will go on.”
But most of the time I'm as afraid of death as the next guy.
I wouldn't say that's “why” I live the life I do, devoting every moment to creating, healing, loving, and practicing becoming inside myself more how I would like the outside world to be. I do these
things because they're what I do. But my subconscious suggests that maybe art is a fight
against death, a desire to capture what's beautiful and light in the world and hold it close to ourselves, so that it will never slip out of our embrace and into the darkness. We know that everything is transient, but maybe, just this once, this one beautiful thing can be ours forever. Maybe we can even share it with people we love. Maybe we can even share it with everybody.
I hope we have all known the sweetness of waking up on a pale soft morning, when the blankets are still white and the breeze has not yet disturbed the curtains, and we see the one we love sleeping next to us. This is the honey of the world. Who among us would not want this moment to last forever? Who among us have not felt the pang of, “I wish there could be only this, forever and ever?” Recognition is bittersweet. The more aware we are of life, the more
we feel its beauty and its pain.
As far as we can scientifically prove, our time on this rock is fleeting. And while sometimes that feels like a gift, other times it's the saddest truth we'll ever hold—and the idea of living on, in some way, is sweet. As we grow up and time exchanges the gifts of youth for other gifts, who hasn't felt like, “wait a minute! Now I know what to do with all that! Give me another chance!” —Who hasn't heard Sondheim's song about Children and Art and not thought, “s---, man, he's
right. I gotta go have a kid and produce some masterpieces, or at least, something that doesn't totally suck, because that's the only stuff that we leave behind.” I might not have had a child if I
believed I would live forever. I love my son very much, but a small part of why he's here is...life insurance. He's my bid to live on as part of a greater whole that extends before and beyond me.
I spend a lot of time in the “forever is now” end of the perceptive spectrum, and I hang with many people who also live there. But I've also seen this sadly subverted. Dancing tango forced me to deal with this truth all the time—when we really open up our souls and share ourselves, yes, a moment is eternity. And that's great. And the flip side of the coin is that the world of tango is, consequently, overrun by men who, with overwhelming sincerity and ardor, cannot wait to spend ten full minutes with you. They give themselves to you, heart and soul, all their pain, all their joy, all their life experience, boiled into the essence of the moment. (In Argentina.
Other men are not tango dancers at all and are not worth mentioning.) And then they're done. Forever. What else could you possibly want? I mean, we had, like, fifty bazillion immortal eternities back there, ma'am! It's scientifically and philosophically impossible to add anything on to that!
Every person balances mortality and immortality differently, but, having sampled that version of balance, I say...there are more rewarding approaches out there.
—Encounters with greatness also make me reflect on mortality. Something clicked in me when I heard Hilary Hahn play Bach. She had the wisdom of humanity and a depth of understanding of life that can only be acquired through far more years of personal experience than her
And what if it is true that we're all recycled? Are prodigy, genetic predilection, and intellectual greatness mere statistical aberrations, or are they the natural result of just...having had
longer to work on stuff? I do these amazing things nobody else can do, you do these
amazing things nobody else can do, but since I've spent my whole life practicing learning, I'm the first to attest that usually the reason people are good at things is because they've had a lot of practice. Maybe you and I have just had...a lot more practice than other people, doing those things we do.
Someone once said to me of someone, “you'll really like X! He's a very evolved soul!” And I thought to myself, “that is the most Berkeley recommendation I have ever heard.”
And then two months later, someone else said to me, about myself, “Jordana, you are a highly evolved soul.” I still didn't get it, but the idea forced me to consider what conditions would be required in order to have some souls be more evolved than others. And what I knew about evolution was that...it takes a lot more time than any one of us is given in one lifetime.
I have no idea how we may or may not be recycled, but my body is not very “smart” and feels what it feels before I can tell it what I think it should feel. My hand knows what it feels when a hot iron touches it, and I do not have to instruct it or organize my thoughts around the process. The hand knows. You cannot fool the hand.
And just like that, I have felt many things in my life that bypassed my head, things that were. Sense memories carried in the muscle fibers, that had nothing to do with my rational side.
Standing on the steps overlooking the gardens of Versailles, my feet felt an agony of homesickness. They felt, we hate being stuck here at court, bored and trapped and lonely, having to wear expensive silk clothes while back home the crops suffer and business can't get by without us. They felt weary and tired and impatient with...court. And no amount of convincing and telling them they had never been here before would get them to shut up. It was real. I had to leave.
My people came from France before they migrated across the Channel. Do we carry our ancestors' memories in our bodies, as well as their DNA? What would I feel if I ever went to England or Wales or Lithuania? And those scary pogrom nightmares and Nazi nightmares I used to have that felt so real? What about those?
What about the many times I've absentmindedly remembered the feeling of bending forward in a golden field of grain, some coarse dark skirt brushing against my legs, some white cloth thing on my head? The family crest is of three sheaves of wheat for a reason.
I went to boarding school in Concord, home of the Old North Bridge, where the Shot Heard 'Round the World was fired. The start of the American Revolution. That sounded boring to me until I actually went there, and felt...something. The place grabbed my heart. Not in a “gosh I love it here” way, and not in a “this is a scary place” way...just...some intense feeling I couldn't name. And over on the other side of the bridge, great sadness. I think I went to school there a whole year before I ever crossed the bridge. I never wanted to do it. The other side, that was the sad side. There was a patch of path on the other side that just made my heart close up. And although I eventually trained myself to cross the bridge and even walk across that patch of path that felt particularly sad, I always felt uneasy about it. ….And after I had been in school for about a year and a half, my mother came and visited and told me that I had had ancestors on both sides of the American Revolution, and that there were the Fields from neighbouring Deerfield who might well have been there that day, but more than that, I was related to Redcoats who had quite likely been there that day. And as any Concordian has memorized, the Redcoats marched up to the bridge coming from the “sad” side.
I don't generally meet people that make my body remember things it doesn't know it's not supposed to remember. But I did once. I met someone at a party and I was very happy to see him again, although we had never yet met. But he was so...familiar!We had known each other for a long time, or we would know each other for a long time. Or something. And I knew him before he opened the door. The second before the door opened I felt myself relaxing. Like when you're at a party with a lot of people, only a few of whom you know, and you get a text from your friend saying, “there in 5.” The fur settles down. —And then when the door opened and in he walked, I felt enormous relief. There you are! I've missed you!
But that didn't make any sense so I kept it to myself. The body remembers what it remembers, but it doesn't give us any clues as to when it's remembering. 1342? 2967? 1905? 2018?
“I would have made you immortal,” Shakespeare says (in the movie). But when I add up what I remember about having been around for a while, when I scientifically hypothesize on how it can be that some of us can do amazing things that nobody else can do, when I notice that I have already produced a child and some bits of art that do not suck, when I consider the number of
moments-of-eternity/forever-is-now dances I've shared, and when I think of the ever-growing people who say I've healed them, given them a second chance on life, inspired them to love again, etc., I say...I'm already immortal.
And it's no big deal. It's life as usual. It can even kind of be a drag sometimes. Who wants to be reminded of pain and suffering? Sticking around for a long time can get wearying, even though we probably grow progressively more useful to the world the longer we're here. Hanging out in those upper chakras and being super-aware of art and energy and vision and all that...can get unbalanced.
How much more exciting, instead, to feel the fur of the cat against your legs, to smell cassoulet in the oven, to go places in a car instead of in your energetic body. How much more exciting, not to remember how we were/will be in some unknown time, but to discover how we are
Don't make me immortal.
Make me mortal.