Fear of Dying
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Fear of Dying
Comments by Dena Hunt - 14 Dec 2004


I wrote something recently in response to extended academic conference discussion of Elvish immortality in Tolkien's works. It was a rumination, of sorts, and only after it was finished did I realize that it was actually about death. I have done very little "creative" writing in my life and that which I have done has been mere self-revelation. So this revealed to me my own response to the prospect of experiencing "the doom of Men" (Tolkien's phrase).

Like some people's response to the prospect of death, it evoked vivid earliest memory (memory, which is the source of Elvish melancholia, "lore," in Tolkien--but that's irrelevant.) It is short; I am pasting it below.

I thought of it because it deals with both pain and dying--though I wasn't conscious of that when I wrote it.

There is memory, long ago, in a world that was Trees.

It is sunset in summer. He walks down the hard clay slope, among little scrub pines, stepping over little rain-made gullies, toward the pinewoods.

My bare feet hang down on his chest, heels push against the top of his overalls. I sit on his shoulders as he holds my ankles. My hands rest on his head. Sometimes I put my fingers in his ears and laugh at my power over this great man, my daddy. We are off again..

Mama has lighted the lamp in the kitchen behind us, a bright tiny light. She leaves the wooden window open. I have heard the sound of the pump on the porch and the sound has died away. She has rinsed the plates from supper.

Our little black dog trots beside us, nose up to the pine scent, tail curled over his back.

My feet slip inside the top of his overalls against his chest so he doesn't have to hold them. That makes his hands free to swing. And I hold my arms up, open wide to the symphonic splendor of sky and bring them back to my chest, hugging God. It is in front of us. The great vermilion sky! Its life is so short. So sorrow-short. It dies so fast. But now it is alive for this small time every day. And there is song, ever song. And song will stay all night and into morning through the open window. In deepest night. He never leaves us. And so the sorrow is short. .We walk straight forward, into the tall deep dark below the coral sky, the pinewoods, singing to us, the stars in deep blue, brighter now than Mama's lamp.

He swings me down in front of him to the rose hard clay. My bare feet run gently among the thorns of blackberries and wild Cherokee roses to the looming blackness of the woods. And we enter into the holiness of darkness, leaving the frogs and crickets on clay banks behind us, hearing just the hymn of the trees, and we make no sound at all. Starlight, through the pine tops, are soprano silent gleam, and the trees sing in low and soft and wordless voices, a great chorus of holy silence. Our bare feet step lightly on soft beds of pine needles, where in dim daylight violets grow, and wild lilies.

There is sudden light among the dark. The moon has come. I am sleepy and on his shoulders again, my head resting on top of his and my arms about his neck. He carries me back across the gullies, to the indoors, to the big room that is our home, where the wooden window is open in the kitchen part of the porch and Mama waits to turn down the wick and put us both in the big bed to sleep with her. And I will wake in the night to see the stars in the deep blue of the open window and to hear the song. It's always there. . . .

I have never been afraid of the woods, of nature or animals, of darkness or silence. I've never really been afraid of God or of death. In the deepest part of me, I've never even been afraid of thorns. Pain is a learned thing, like fear, taught somewhere else by someone else; learned, I think now, by someone else. Not by me. I know a little what heaven is like. I even know a little what God is like. I have been blessed-by poverty and ignorance, by beauty, a joy that is beyond love or safety, and by memory.

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