Monday, January 24, 2011


Yama, Lord of Death

Over the weekend, my grandfather in Japan passed away. He was 97. In the space of five years, I've lost my grandmother, father and grandfather. I am not unique. We all lose people. But it is hard not to feel that I've entered this stage of life where someone is snipping away at the fabric of the past. The things that made me who I am and shaped my experiences up to this point are all disappearing. And of course, I realize I'm lucky. For some people, that sense of "snipping" begins much earlier.

Of course "no one" is snipping away at anything. This is just the natural course of things. But I also know I'm not alone in feeling this slight paranoia. The Tibet Buddhists, for example, envision Yama, the Lord of death, holding the cycle/wheel of life in his jaws. No one escapes his grip, unless they manage to escape the cycle of existence altogether (why are there no ballets--subtle or otherwise--on this subject? Or maybe, I just don't know about them).

As I was thinking about this, I also recalled the small but excellent exhibit at the Rubin Museum of Art last year titled: "Remember That You Will Die." (And this, in turn, made me recall Muriel Sparks' novel, Memento Mori).

The Rubin exhibit was organized around western and eastern attitudes toward death--the western attitude was quite severe, often emphasizing that death is the great equalizer for us all, while the eastern attitude demonstrated that death was simply part of a cycle which, as I've said above, one could ultimately escape.

Sometimes I feel that I have been thinking endlessly about the nature of grief. I was thinking about it again after the shootings in Tuscon, and how, after a few days, the media began, in its earnest fashion, to harp on "healing" and "closure" and the much maligned term "normalcy." Last night I looked through the recommended steps one is to take in order to integrate grief, because of course, psychological healing demands that we integrate and move forward. There are the usual things one must do--but most of all, one must form new relationships and focus on the future.

And so, I have this idea of Yama chomping away at the past fabric, and me, furiously trying to knit up a new one. Of course, we all know who will ultimately win. Still this made me think of the Norns, or the Fates in Nordic mythology, weaving together loose strands to put together a tapestry of the world.

In the opera Gottedamerung, the ropes the Norns are using, snaps. They can no longer weave. They've lost access to their wisdom. They, too, are subject to the eternal chomping of Yama.

:( kokoro yori okuyami moushiageru yo
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