blogs for my class part 3: mating and death
September 21, 2010
yesterday i saw a mating dance. it was the first time i had ever seen one in real life. first, a couple of large male egyptian geese kind of pecked at each other in the sky as they were flying over the field outside my house. when they landed, the biggest one with the puffed out neck charged at the smaller male and chased it off. when he was satisfied that he had adequately demonstrated his alpha gene, the big goose turned around to the female goose who had been watching the whole affair. as she stood there, he opened his wings completely, as if to hug her, and kind of hopped around in front of her for 30 seconds or so. then he just stood there, wings spread wide open, like the sails of an ancient greek war ship. when he had proved himself sufficiently masculine, he closed his wings and the two birds walked off together.
it was really fascinating. as i watched the whole spectacle i couldn’t help but hear the word “nutriment” as pronounced by david attenborough dance through my thoughts.
later in the evening i watched the thin red line. like the mating dance, it was the first time i had seen it.
it shook me up a bit.
i used to love war movies. if i had seen malick’s film when it was initially released i probably would have raved about how much i loved it and how badly i wanted to see it again. but not anymore. these days i find it harder and harder to watch them.
until i was 20 i had never seen death. relatives had died, but i had never been there with them in their final moments. i had never even seen a dead body. until i was 20 years old, death did not really exist for me. it was something that happened when i wasn’t looking. it was a rumour, something i heard about after the fact.
then, one saturday in the august of my 20th year, i watched a man die. his head collided with a metal post at 60 km/h. he was standing in the doorway of a train and as his head hit the metal he let go of the railings he was holding onto. he fell from the train and bounced on the ground. i watched him fall and i watched him hit the ground. i thought he was going to bounce under the train and be cut in half, but he went airborne once and then came to rest.
the train didn’t stop. i was the only person on the train who actually witnessed what happened.
i can still see everything exactly as it was that day.
the most recent death in my family was the death of my godfather, jerry decter. he was an LA jew and went to fairfax high school, back before fairfax and melrose was the epicenter of west coast jewry. he used to hang out with mickey cohen‘s boys. mickey cohen was the kosher capone, the baddest jew around. jerry always wore a gold necklace, even in his 80s. he loved to tell stories. after fairfax high he went to USC for a year and then dropped out because america was at war and germans were killing jews over in europe.
he joined the army. they sent him to the pacific.
jerry fought at guadalcanal.
once upon a time i would have watched the thin red line and enjoyed it. now i watch it and i think of that dead body and how every time i think about it i’m convinced it’s going under the train. and i think about my godfather. once you’ve witnessed a violent death, i suppose war films lose a little bit of their appeal.
this morning i started thinking about the two things i experienced yesterday and i came to a realization:
time has proven itself to be unarguably positive. what i mean is, the population is growing every year. once upon a time there were 1 billion people on this planet. now there are 6 billion. even when we kill each other, even when we fight unnecessary wars, or when viruses decimate populations, we are still growing.
time promises two things – life and death. you don’t know how long life is promised, nor when death will come, but you get them both. and, when you examine it from a distance, life wins out. the number of deaths each day pales in comparison to the number of births.
humans may be the perfect killing machine. we may do killing better than anything else on this planet does anything. but even we are no match for the overwhelming power of life.