Tuesday 19 February 2002

Life and death

Burningbird replies, after reading my response to her post on nobility in death:

One clarification: I am not taking away from the nobility of the actions of a person in how they face death, or the actions they take before death. I consider these to be the last acts of life.

But to use nobility in reference in death in order to somehow make the act acceptable or more palatable—for newscasting or for politics—is wrong.

Naturally I agree with Burningbird’s second statement. And I was remiss in not referencing the original essay from onepotmeal that provoked this discussion. There are far fewer heroes in any war than the military, the politicians, or the media would like us to believe. To refer to everyone who dies in combat as a hero diminishes the true heroism of a few.

On the first point, however, I would argue that death forms part of a continuum, commencing with birth, and that there is a fuzzy boundary between “the last acts of life” and the first acts of death. It’s why I so deeply admire Tim Robbins’ Dead Man Walking. At the beginning of the film, Matthew Poncelet (Sean Penn) is already dead: morally, spiritually, and—for all practical purposes, since his appeal is destined to fail—physically.

The story charts his journey through death and back towards life, which he only embraces during his last moments in the execution chamber. My guess is that many lives encompass such a death, though perhaps more compressed in time, and that in this context it is impossible to separate one from the other.

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