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Mack Williams: An accrual of death

Those who have served in wartime have a wealth of experience with early, tragic death. Those who live into advanced years have a different experience with it than the soldier. The soldier’s dealings, if graphed, have great “clustering” points corresponding to the dates of certain military battles.

The civilian’s dealings with death start out with one or two, here and there in youth, the curve of the graph arching up a slow, gentle grade in middle age, peaking at the end. (I did learn a little from taking statistical methods class at Appalachian four times.)

Of course, the above doesn’t apply to civilians who survived mother nature’s catastrophes, or those man-made ones, the more notable being the sinking of the Titanic, along with the explosion and crash of the Hindenburg.

For most of us, earlier experiences of the deaths of family and friends can be counted on our fingers, but in later years becoming “digitally challenged” in their enumeration.

Those earlier familial deaths are never “gotten over.” In ascribing the property of a sensory organ to one of circulation: With time, our hearts become a little “myopic” to those long past, special hurts of “mortality.”

Of course, the deaths of pets leave their mark as well to those who are especially “pet people,” whether it be regarding mammal or reptile. In addition to those creatures’ scattered graves in different places and times, there is a “pet cemetery” (proper, non-malevolent spelling) within their former owners’ hearts.

Even that lost tadpole down the sink leaves its most minute “heart scratch.” At least with it came the added hope that “somewhere” it would go on to become a frog or toad.

Then there are the accidents of the road. I never ran over a “named” pet, just some unnamed ones whose owner could have been said to be Mother Nature.

It is said that we forget what is unpleasant, but we really don’t. I’ll never forget one night driving in Faith, when a strange creature with multiple lumps on its back ran across the road in front of me. The initial, more substantial, front wheel “thump” was followed by multiple tiny “thumps” from my car’s rear wheels. That strange creature was a possum, with its piggy-backing babies.

In addition, the sight of just death itself can cause a brief moment of sadness, such as a sidewalk-side bird or squirrel “gone to skeleton.”

I guess that all of these — relatives, spouses, friends, pets, along with creatures whose crossing of the road was unsuccessful — should come with a warning to the heart: “In case of death, depending on the nature of the deceased and your feelings for same, you will experience either a greater or lesser sense of loss.”

My past experiences with death don’t affect me now as they did at the time of occurrence, because just like everyone else, a certain “patina” builds up over the years, just like that on a bronze statue.

The statue’s patina comes from oxidization with the air, in which a miniscule amount of heat is produced, but not on the same level as combustion. Likewise, our hearts are “fired” over and over, and continually re-buffered by those built-up, patina-like layers for our feelings’ protection.

Just think what it would be like if today, you were still experiencing every death, both great and small with the same magnitude of feeling as the dates those deaths occurred, the pain never lessening over time, continuing to accrue, “with interest.” We would become as “sensitized” about death as Poe’s poor Roderick Usher was about his senses.

In that event, the following situation, instead of being an incredulous example of strange fiction, might be seen as the norm:

A man, sitting in a restaurant, reads in the newspaper that a friend has taken his own life. He remarks to another friend sitting at the table: “Oh yes, I remember! This makes perfect sense now considering what he told me earlier on the last day of his life! He said the day before, he accidentally ran over an Eastern Box Turtle while speeding to work, its shell’s ‘crunching’ sound going straight to his soul. My friend told me that with that, he had finally reached the cumulative individual amount of death in his life with which he could effectively deal; and no longer being able to deal with death, he wasn’t going to deal with it anymore.”

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