Saturday, April 10, 2010

Day 100- On death, without exaggeration

Dear Mr. President,

I had planned so much to say in this, my 100th letter to you. A beloved Supreme Court Justice is retiring. Sudan is going to the polls. The lights have been out in Gaza for days. The mining accident in West Virginia demands a new look at the way the industry protects its workers. But my heart is heavy for the people of Poland today. The magnitude of their loss is staggering; I don't understand how a country recovers from such a blow. Everything feels a little less safe, our fragility never more apparent than when tragedy strikes those we want to believe are somehow protected from it. Of course, Presidents are not granted a higher degree of immortality just because they are elected to high office. Of course, death does not care about a person's job, or a country's history of struggles. Of course, tragedy like this can unite divided people and urge nations to stand together despite all that they disagree on. It is the only way we make it through.

And so, humbled by this reminder of our own rapidly approaching ends, frightened by the realization that none of us have power over death, we will light candles and put aside our differences and stand together as the people of Poland grieve, and, slowly, move forward. How lost, they must be feeling, right now. It seems especially unfair that this has struck a country that seems to have, throughout history, had to overcome more than its share of tragedy and despair.

I don't pray, Mr. President, but I often, in my conversations with the universe, wish for your safety and security. I will do so, again, this evening. We would be so lost without you, sir.

Respectfully yours,


On death, without exaggeration

by Wislawa Szymborska

It can't take a joke,
find a star, make a bridge.
It knows nothing about weaving, mining, farming,
building ships, or baking cakes.

In our planning for tomorrow,
it has the final word,
which is always beside the point.

It can't even get the things done
that are part of its trade:
dig a grave,
make a coffin,
clean up after itself.

Preoccupied with killing,
it does the job awkwardly,
without system or skill.
As though each of us were its first kill.

Oh, it has its triumphs,
but look at its countless defeats,
missed blows,
and repeat attempts!

Sometimes it isn't strong enough
to swat a fly from the air.
Many are the caterpillars
that have outcrawled it.

All those bulbs, pods,
tentacles, fins, tracheae,
nuptial plumage, and winter fur
show that it has fallen behind
with its halfhearted work.

Ill will won't help
and even our lending a hand with wars and coups d'etat
is so far not enough.

Hearts beat inside eggs.
Babies' skeletons grow.
Seeds, hard at work, sprout their first tiny pair of leaves
and sometimes even tall trees fall away.

Whoever claims that it's omnipotent
is himself living proof
that it's not.

There's no life
that couldn't be immortal
if only for a moment.

always arrives by that very moment too late.

In vain it tugs at the knob
of the invisible door.
As far as you've come
can't be undone.

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