In this short story, aliens peacefully arrive on Earth looking for the one thing they can never have: death. Because the aliens reproduce via mitosis each contains the memories of their predecessors. To them, human death is a miracle. One human, the elderly Mr. Crane, tries to convince the aliens that death is ugly and not worth fetishizing ("I'm about to die, and there's nothing great about it") but no matter what he says, they persist in seeing death as beautiful. The aliens insist that humans' "lives are built around death, glorifying it. Postponing it as long as possible, to be sure. But glorifying it. In the earliest literature, the death of the hero is the moment of greatest climax." Finally, Crane visits the aliens right as he's about to die, to show them how ugly death is — but they find it more beautiful than ever (source).So when I happened to read this quote from the Japanse novel Kafka on the Shore the other day, I thought of this short story again:
“Every one of us is losing something precious to us. Lost opportunities, lost possibilities, feelings we can never get back again. That’s part of what it means to be alive” (source).
So much of our ability to REALLY LIVE stems from the fact that we die, that we lose, and that we must to learn to appreciate all that we will inevitably be incapable of keeping. The prospect of loss does not detract from our experience of life and love but instead serves to intensify it.
How many times have I had "that moment" -- of knowing this cannot last and wanting to fiercely hold on while I can, trying to consciously to savor it as much as possible...
And it all got me thinking about what Lehi taught about the purpose of life:
And to bring about his eternal purposes in the end of man, after he had created our first parents, and the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and in fine, all things which are created, it must needs be that there was an opposition; even the forbidden fruit in opposition to the tree of life; the one being sweet and the other bitter (2 Ne. 2:15).
Opposition is at the heart of how God intends for us to experience life and to learn. Loss is at the center of what it means to really possess -- and death is what defines life. We truly "taste the bitter that [we] may know to prize the good" (Moses 6:55).
As my life continues forward I have become more and more aware of what I am losing -- which carries with it a sadness... but that awareness of loss also seems to enable me to more fully love and live, another form of grace.