death toll

I was asking myself, what do I value most? What’s the bedrock of my value “System”? Do I even have a system that I know about? What lies at the core of all my other values?

And then I thought, is it freedom? I value my freedom so much that I would sacrifice another value to achieve it? Like honesty, truth? Like I would lie to stay free? Or is that impossible? Is it really that the “truth will set you free”? That the only way I could be truly, truly free, is thru honesty. To be like a tree, stalwart & true. Persistent & patient. Pliant yet insistent.

Because without truth, we’re in denial. And Denial is a field I see many, if not most, people populating these days. They lie in the lands of assumption & denial. Drinking of the soothing milk of denial that crops up in a field of plenty of assumptions. How can we know the truth if we’re not even speaking the same language? We haven’t even clarified terms, much less agreed on them.

Ah Death, my old friend. Here you are again. The third time this week.

Reminding me how ludicrous the delusion of control can be.

And perhaps controlling one’s own death, as one friend did, calls down a dignity. “At least this I will determine, if nothing else.”

How to swim in powerlessness. How to delight in surrendering from the struggle. How to dance with death.

How else to truly live?

My Great Aunt Betty slipped away. Did I really know her? Not in details, but in energy yes. I got to see Wanda Jackson perform live in Wellington a few years back. She was in her early 70’s, flirting with her young band & preaching the love of Jesus at the end. Same hair, same love of Christ, same sass as my Aunt Betty.

I knew I was being visited by the grand spirit of Betty Carr.

Dementia. Demented. Dimmed in the head. I’ve seen it a bit up close. Not like some who have trawled through it with someone they loved, diving deep into a slippery soup of convoluted brains. But a bit. I’ve seen it a bit.

It seems no wonder zombie movies have been so popular. We have so many living dead walking this earth. It takes films to show us what is in plain sight. And some are those with dementia, that check out of their heads long before their bodies check out. It’s like having children with no hope of them progressing, of evolving from dependency to flourishing selfhood. No, this is a backwards scrawl into deepening depths of dependence & disorientation.

The next death a student’s father, also with the beginning signs of dementia. I didn’t know him at all, except in stories from those who did.

The gap that is felt when a body lets go. It shocks us into spaciousness, into how much comfort we take from filling our air spaces with sounds, our empty spaces with things & people, our head spaces with distractions. Someone “leaving the table”, as Leonard Cohen so prophetically crooned it, wakes us up to just how brief the candle of living truly is.

And what are we doing with it? Are we spending it in endless sorrow? In nagging nuisance? In constant chaos of unrelinquished battles, unpacked baggage, & uncleared rubbish?

Have you been outside? Have you seen the clouds, the trees, the rocks, the birds, the humans, the colors, the light & the dark, the artwork of what-is? Have you smelled the earth lately? Or tasted the river water? Do you dare? Is your world that far away from you that it might poison you? Or disgust you?

Is there a song that you don’t dare sing cept when no-one can hear? This is a doorway that dementia opens up for you. Having been incarcerated by caring what other people thought of you, now that that part of your brain that cared is no longer there, you’re free. It’s perhaps not the way I’d wish to be free, but it is a way.

So what I wonder is if I can take these stories, these legends of lives, & go a little demented in an open-eyed way. Go a little crazy, & daily. An apple a day keeps the doctor away. A dose of demented a day keeps the dementia away. But what of the other dis-eases that plague us to death? So many more neurological ones emerging. And then the levels of diagnosis. What’s at the core? What is the common denominator?

Returning to where this began. What do I value most?


Being tree-like?

The trees teach me so much.

How to anchor down

in order to leverage

& rise up.

How to go around.

How to stand together.

How to bow down

without breaking.

How to see a longer time.

the wisdom of trees

ta rize up

where dey bin

pushed down.

to sinew out of


to slide away from




to strive out of sabotage.


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