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Oscar Wilde on Death

(this story appears in Old Roads and Shadows, an eBook )


Oscar Wilde on Death

Death must be so beautiful. To lie in the soft brown earth, with the grasses waving above one's head, and listen to silence. To have no yesterday, and no tomorrow. To forget time, to forgive life, to be at peace. -Oscar Wilde, writer (1854-1900)
I came across this quote from Oscar Wilde several weeks ago and the words have been turning over in my mind ever since. The feelings these words induce are so foreign to the usual emotions that follow the comments of the acerbic and sarcastic Wilde, the writer known for his cutting wit. The quote appeared alongside a remembrance from a widower that recalled the time his dying wife had asked him what he thought death might be like, and his answer was that we probably just disappeared into nothingness. He followed this by saying he wished he had known about this comment on death by Wilde, how much more comforting the words would have been to his wife at the time.
Surely, in today's modern world of speed and steel, complete with bullet trains, planes, and cars, sudden death is often not a pretty thing to see. Yet death comes to us all and whatever our beliefs might be as to what, if anything, awaits us after our demise, we all must return through the portal to that deep and inscrutable well from which all of existence has sprung. So, with that thought in mind, I continued to ponder the flow of the words and the images left in their wake.
The idea of the grave as a friendly place is not necessarily an unpleasant thought, to lie in the soft brown welcoming earth with grasses waving above one's head and listen to the silence that surrounds you. And even though in today's world many people choose alternatives to actual burial, the rest of Wilde's thought is still emotionally strong. To have no yesterday and no tomorrow is to exist in the moment only, something that is hard for temporal creatures such as you and me to fully understand. To forget time is to be nothing short of immortal. To forgive life is to acknowledge the fact that life threw us all into this existence with no regards for the problems we had to face, be they physical or mental, cultural or environmental. In our own personal ways, we all have endured the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune and carried our own problems and deformities into a future that at times was dark and ominous, terrifying and sinister. Yes, we can, and should, forgive life, and finally be at peace with the world and with ourselves.
I thought again about the last ten words of that quote. "To forget time, to forgive life, to be at peace," and was moved by the power and feeling inherent in such a succinct statement on what it meant to come to the end of one's life with a full realization of what that entails, to contemplate the end of being, to experience the final emotions of being human. I also realized that if I could ever look at ten words that I had penned and know that, as with Wilde's passage, the words pertained to all of humanity and carried within them the same import and solemn beauty, then I could be at peace and say yes, I really did become a writer of the first rank. Yet if I did not become such an artist, then the fact that I lived, strived, and suffered would be enough.

And after enduring the pain and heartache, the suffering, the striving, and all the other torments that human flesh is heir to, I too, could forget time, forgive life, and be at peace.

Laudizen King
November 2009
Los Angeles