DEATH: AN INTERDISCIPLINARY ATTEMPT AT A DEFINITION
(1: Holding the Tail)
The mouse is shaking his head and tail as if he is saying no, no, no. Honest, he is.
Yesterday, I couldn’t do the mouse in, but that was yesterday. I’ve learned to do other things that I didn’t enjoy. Annihilating a mouse is a yet another one of those unpleasantaries, that I must own up to. Killing mice is a part of life and accepting life is a part of growing up, so it follows that making this mouse give up his ghost is a part of my maturing process. Besides, death is happening everywhere, I think.
Death is already in this very mouse. Inside my clutch, inside the body, cells are dying. We don’t hear them dying, because we don’t want to hear them dying. Cells in their little black turtleneck’s reading molecular size Camus. Dying cells, dead cells.
No one tears up over dandruff, a very visible manifestation of dead cells
I believe, the mouse is bearing his teeth.
(2: The Body)
Those pleading eyes of his.
Why can’t you buy death in a package? Is it simply because no one wants packaged death? Or does some kind of technical problem prevent bottled death? Why couldn’t you package something found only in bodies, which are kinds of containers? Death is not ubiquitous like some kind of ether. (Although, I don’t know that for sure. I’m not real current on my physics.)
Maybe I should have gone into physics. They don’t kill mice, not qua physicists anyway. Neither do these guys embody the primitive élan vital. In fact, some shoot for the very opposite. One went so far as to say, “I am become death”. He touched the thing with a needle. Not that all of them personify death.
Sometimes they just talk about death—as out there, as not yet. Heat Death. The most morbid week of my undergraduate course in cosmology was reading Paulson’s article, “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff and It is All Small Stuff.” The mood in the room suggested that death is most certainly an inescapable ether. An ether, one would very much doubt light’s ability to pass through.
If such a thing is possible, then this mouse is moping.
Why did I think that I could do this? I couldn’t sleep for a week after seeing Ingmar Bergman’s Seventh Seal. A week without sleep, knowing that I could play the its-only-a-film card against my imagination.
My impression is that artist’s tend to figure, ‘better dead than never’, but there is no room for that kind of sloppy thinking in the lab, where either there is a heartbeat or there is not. Unless you go by a brain stem definition, but that would considerably complicate things.
In the end, there is just me, my mouse and this metal rod.
We can summarize our research on death so far by recalling the words of a (deceased) philosopher. Not precisely his words, but to paraphrase Pascal, between the death of the universe and the death of a cell is dandruff. Sort of puts things in perspective.
Was J. Robert Oppenheimer’s comment, I am become death, really about his need for Head and Shoulders? Might dandruff be an evolutionary adaptation to keep us aware of the Unbecoming? Or was Oppenheimer, in a sense making a much more serious comment about the status of abstract thinking in toto, in relationship to that which we call life?
Finally, both the mouse and I reach the fifth phase of Kübler-Ross: acceptance.
From where I stand, for a moment, death is a warm fuzzy feeling.
Then, I draw a vial of blood and I’m not sure exactly what death is or is not.