Dylan Thomas’s poem has had resonance with humankind since the day he wrote it. I’m inclined to agree with the sentiment. I’ve written about death before, never better than here, but this last week I lost a beloved uncle, a man who, outside of my immediate family, has had as big an impact on my life as anyone in the world.
He didn’t rage, so much as bargain. On the way to the cold and silent grave, he brushed up against the Reaper more than once, and always was able to persuade that silent sickle-wielder that he should come back later. He was exceptionally persuasive. Until the end, a week ago Sunday, when he sat down in his favorite chair and was himself persuaded to leave us for a while.
I’m a believer, and I believe that we are not of this world originally, nor do we end here, but go on and on. I’m persuaded by very much better men and angelic women that the joys of what we go to will exceed the joys of this place as an inch-thick porterhouse exceeds a cardboard box. It is a thing I believe.
And yet. I like my box.
My Uncle Kumen was able to write his life story before he shuffled off this mortal coil, and I was privileged to edit it, along with my dear cousin Brian. It brought me in contact with Kumen in a way I hadn’t been able to experience before that, and it was a gift to me of such value I can’t express it. We had long chats in his office, on the phone, over email. He was able to touch me and mold me in unmistakable ways. Kumen altered the course of my life.
One of those chats, deep into the evening, ended with him telling me a story (not that there weren’t stories all through, every time, but this time was different). He was in the Army, on maneuvers, and got lost in a field. Across the field was an old, abandoned house, well-preserved, but still in the kind of condition that only those kinds of structures can be in, and he said that he walked into it and felt almost as a physical presence the people that had lived there before. It was evocative, and I could feel a story there. I do stories. I know them. They flock to me like moths to candle. This one fluttered and danced, just out of reach.
I always thought I’d have time to write it while he had time to read it, though it wasn’t really my story to tell. Time wasn’t kind, and I didn’t make the use of it I could have. Now the story is mine to tell after all, and I’ll try to bring the fluttering moth inside and let its wingbeats stir the dust of creation. No matter the result, Kumen will be in it, all through it, because it is his tale, and I just the teller.
It’s not raging against the dying of the light–it’s refusing its death altogether. It is becoming brighter, now that we are undimmed by crude matter and the ungainly molded clay. It is, perhaps, leaving this pale creation, this limited remaking of the luminous threads spun from the wheel in our heads–for nothing comes right in this place, nothing is ever quite what it could be–and rising to a sphere where we speak and all matter obeys, where the creator and the creation are one, and the starstuff dances to whatever tune we whistle.
I could get used to that. One day, like my dear friend Kumen, I will.