dying beautifully

You will be told the death was staged: humans do not die that way, blood does not move like that, limbs do not separate from bodies so easily, headless bodies appear only in fantastic stories, children do not die, explosives do not sound like that, sand does not interact that way with blood, a dead hand cannot possibly pose that way, real tears are never so eloquent, real men don’t cry, and only fools die when the sun is shining.

You will be told that war is glorious hues of color pinned on a hero’s chest, newly-composed marches that energize tramping feet, a light display more elegant than fireworks and more sublime than shooting stars, a muse that inspires empire-building epics, an endless source of scripts for global blockbusters, a necessary economy boost, a book that is unputdownable.

Walking into an art exhibition, you will be told about the new war-inspired techniques: paint extracted from lachrymal glands at the point of death, brushes created from delicate pre-pubescent eyelashes, splatter techniques modeled on rocket-splashed blood; you will learn about the underground market in “found art” that specializes in children’s shoes, quilts made from stolen burial shrouds, intricately layered loops of cries captured from the last 3 seconds before death, primitive sculptures made from pure blood-saturated soil. A clever artist will use all the available photographs of the war-killed to create a collage that honors the armament factories that sustain great economies.

Acting schools across the world will use footage of the dying to instruct students: fall this way, watch the blood fly out of you that way, feel your limbs detach this way, experience your flesh melting that way, demonstrate pain this way, illustrate loss that way, practice how to die beautifully.

And because acting students who have watched footage of the dying learn how to die beautifully, flinging limbs this way and that, decapitating their heads this way and that, spilling blood this way and that, those who watch them learn that dying is an art, begin to evaluate when dying is real, proclaim, with confidence, that some forms of dying do not look real, that some dying looks fake.

You will be told that children do not die that way, that they must have been trained by amateur acting coaches, that those are child-sized adults whose flailing limbs betray them, that such overacting is emotional manipulation, that the figure of the child should not be used to sway political decisions, that children cannot be aware they are dying, that the rules of war are child-friendly, that it is obscene to mention children in plush conference rooms full of strategists and world leaders bedeviled by moral dilemmas.

Children die so beautifully: untutored bodies fly in missile trajectories, young blood shimmers in sun waves, flexible limbs dance away from flying bodies, weightless tears prism rainbows, beautiful screams instruct birdsong, and muses weep because they do not know how to inspire such beauty.

We kill them because they die so beautifully.

74 thoughts on “dying beautifully

  1. This is absolutely amazing. I’d love to be able to write quite like you. Upon reading this I had visions of wars I’ve never seen and noises I’ve never heard. Bravo! x

    1. I absolutely agree with you: part of what I’m trying to think about is how death is aestheticized. How it circulates as “art,” as “spectacle.” How we are taught to forget its obscenity. Its brutality.

  2. Oh my my my. There are no words to describe how my mind reels after reading this. This is beyond incredible! What a fascinating read!!!

  3. This is absolutely wonderful!! I love the choice of word you used to described the injustices of our children being enslaved, and murdered as an result of unresolved conflicts between countries….

  4. This reminds me of when I first truly fell in love with the written word. It was when I read an amazingly worded speech in which the words’ meanings were not respective of the individual words as they were written on the page. I understood each word and phrase, but in seeing them placed as they were I came to understand that in certain combinations the poetry of words and their meanings may be as flexible as the sunlight streaming through the trees, and at times just as inconstant.

    The words from my day of enlightenment, “For Brutus is an honourable man” remind me greatly of your words today, “they die so beautifully”. For in both phrases the meaning is so clearly defined as not being what the words themselves are saying. Thank you for artistically stating the atrocities of war and death so beautifully. I believe Shakespeare would be proud of you.

  5. Fantastic piece of writing. I do wonder, however, if you truly find all death to be horrific. Is there nothing inherently poetic in a father sacrificing himself for his son, a soldier for his fellow soldiers? Just something I was thinking, great writing nonetheless

    1. I very much like the idea that sacrifice can be beautiful–and we see it everyday in teachers and nurses who use their free time to care for others in ways that enhance life. (These are examples I know–where many work outside assigned hours and often for no pay.) I’m sure you can think of other examples. I think we can honor those who give their lives for others without describing the loss of life under violent circumstances as beautiful.

      There’s a long strain of poetry from soldiers at the front that tries to dispel the romance of war: I’m very indebted to it.

      1. True, one need only read Farewell to Arms or All Quiet to understand that (at least partially). I was just curious what you thought of that, thanks for your reply

  6. Reblogged this on Dominoes and commented:
    Still in the writer paralyzed state, but at-least, i can still read and know an excellent piece when i come across one. This feels as it it was written with Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in G minor Op.23 playing in the background. Totally riveting!!

  7. Death must be made beautiful in order for us to accept it no? For us not to fear the inevitable! For us to escape guilt! Death in it’s ugly brutality provokes feelings of disgust, anger, hate. A beautiful death will inspire compassion, understanding, concern.
    I love your writing…truly and deeply.

  8. Poetically accurate. Death has been portrayed as something it is not and this speaks to that so perfectly.

  9. As a writer, if I have ever written anything one-tenth as profound and affecting as this, I can die happy. But I don’t think I ever have, or ever will. Was this a free-write, or did you edit?

  10. Your post is so beautifully written! If only we’d stop waving flags, acknowledge the horror of war, and take it as personally as the victims that we so glibly refer to as “collateral damage.”

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