But the living are soft and tender.
Ursula Le Guin unpacks Lao Tzu’s musings on the living power of softness over hardness with a beautiful thought I must repeat. It’s the conclusion I’d want to reach:
In an age when hardness is supposed to be the essence of strength, and even the beauty of women is reduced nearly to the bone, I welcome this reminder that tanks and tombstones are not very adequate role models, and that to be alive is to be vulnerable.
We are not tanks and tombstones. We are not corpses. We live, we are fragile and tender and soft. That is life, and that is a particular kind of power. Hardness is brittle, softness survives even sustained attack.
That’s the way, anyway.
Me, I hear about corpses, still and frozen, I don’t just think of their weakness, I think of sadness. No change left except rot. Fading back into the matrices of matter, empty of the movement that made them live.
It’s not bad. Death. It’s just part of what happens. Change is a constant, and it’ll happen to us all. Eventually it will kill us, and we won’t see the world around us any more.
Hard and stiff, buried or burnt, we become suddenly ineffective. Except, optimistically, the memories we have left in our loved ones.
I still stand by that. Love is stronger than death. It overcomes the dark, missing, hardness. It sustains us in others hearts. It leaves marks. It brings the dead back to me.
I feel like I’m making love some kind of necromancy. Waking the dead for one last zombie cuddle.
This is not the case.
Corpses are hard and stiff. They probably don’t give good cuddle.
When I am gone, I expect to rot away. I expect those I’ve touched to try and hold onto some piece of me, some memory or idea.
Because I don’t know where that thing that makes me me will be.
I’m content with its evaporation and disappearance.
When I am hard and stiff, I do not expect the thing that makes me supple and mobile to be around any more. Or any where.
Still no way of knowing, but that’s not what I live for. I can’t promise myself to the void.
I hope, that when I am gone, the impact left behind will be more good than bad. I hope people will remember me with fondness, and living better lives, on account of things they have learnt from me.
I realize this is optimistic arrogance on a level I rarely scale, and I’m ever the arrogant optimist.
But that’s part of what hope is for, right? Something to keep us going after we realize that it’s all going to end in hard, stiff corpseness?
For now, I can be movement and softness. That is how I share my self with others. When I am hard and brittle and rotting away, I hope that my self will be left behind.
Illustration by Adam.