Of course, we are all busy dying

That is not meant to be flip. The amazing thing is that we also get to cram so much living into the process. But every seven years, your body has replaced every cell in it with a new cell generated for one that has died off. How many bodies have you had?

One of my all-time favorite movies–perhaps my VERY favorite–is Zorba the Greek. The story is taken from a book of the same title by the Greek writer Nikos Kazantkakis. I suspect I must have mentioned this before, because my dear friend Phil sent me a copy of Kazantkakis’s Report to Greco that occupies a treasured place on my bookshelf. I share so much philosophy with this man. But that reflection is for another post.

It’s impossible for me to think about dying without thinking about Zorba. The movie is brilliant, with incredible performances by Anthony Quinn as Zorba, Alan Bates as “the Englishman” (a bookish sort who comes to this small Greek island with visions of imposing his orderly logic on the project he’s sent to manage), and Irene Papas as the young Greek widow who is stoned to death for canoodling with the Englishman. Then of course there is the unforgettable performance of Lila Kedrova as the aging courtesan, a character I seem to relate to more and more as the years pass.

There are many influences of this movie I can picture in my life. One of the most vivid is an evening drinking ouzo in a tavern in San Francisco’s Tenderloin District with a bunch of Greek sailors and dancing all night to bazouki music until I could hardly walk to my car, let alone drive home. I’m not sure I would have braved the dancing without the memory of Zorba resonating in my brain, but I can say that it was a highlight night of my life.

It also taught me not to drink ouzo. No matter how much I like the taste of anise and the mysterious way this crystalline liquer turns cloudy with a drop of water or melting ice, the next morning’s head isn’t worth it.

This really is relevant.

The young Greek woman played by Irene Papas is stoned to death by the villagers after spending a night with the Englishman. What follows is this (probably loosely paraphrased):

Zorba:  “Why do the young die?”

Englishman: “I don’t know.”

Zorba: “What the hell is the good of all your damned books if they don’t tell you that?”

Englishman: “I don’t know.”

As a book person, I don’t know either. I do know that books are important to me, that they give me a window into other people’s minds and other ways of seeing.

But I, too, still don’t understand why the young die.

I also don’t understand why sending this message off into the ether gives me comfort, but it does. And when I get notes back, the comfort is doubled. Thank you, Phil and Jeff.

6 Responses to “Of course, we are all busy dying”

  1. Philip Ferris Says:

    You and I share Kazantkakis but also now ouzo. The one time in my life when I may have been more than “merry” was with a bottle of ouzo in Corfu, I haven’t really drunk ouzo since.

    That having been said, the Kefi is upon me and I have been scratching away at something. (I am not doing this to seek compliments, I am an aspiring poet at best.)

    I do not want to hold on to this, only to polish out the spontaneity, it speaks of the future and is clearly not for now.

    I do want you to know that I have given time in composing this, for you are my friend and time is all I have to give at a time like this.

    When the sun rises over the horizon,
    Steep some cut strawberries
    In a shallow bath of ouzo.
    As the sun reaches its apex,
    Place them in a dish, save the liqueur.
    Take a chair and sit in the sunshine.
    With every bite, close your eyes
    And savour the marriage of the flavours.
    After the last piece is swallowed,
    Drink the liqueur and remember
    All that is sweet in your life.

  2. Marianne Says:

    Oh, Phil, strawberries and ouzo! What a treat!

    Strawberry season is coming soon, but alas, if you really read my post, I’ve given up ouzo. . .;^}

    Thanks for the poem. There are times when only poetry will do it.

  3. Philip Ferris Says:

    I know you gave up on ouzo but it was more about enhancing the strawberries and involves less than a shot glass full, so I thought revisiting might have been an option. Oh well, someone may come across the combination, it’s all about choice.

  4. inger Says:

    i may be inadvertently paraphrasing/plagiarizing someone here because this phrase feels so familiar, but: the young die so that we can properly appreciate the time the rest of us have.

    that’s one way to look at it – god/allah/yahweh/buddha/the spaghetti monster/the universe’s way of saying: Live. no, really, you numbskulls. Live.

    i have other theories. but that’s the leading contender. tick tock, Mom. what aren’t you doing that you want to do before you die?

    i love you. and i cherish the time that we have together. it doesn’t take losing Tom for that.


  5. Marianne Says:

    Phil, the best enhancement for strawberries is to pick them and eat them while they’re still warm with sunlight.

    But thanks for the recipe anyway.

  6. Marianne Says:

    Inger, I’ve definitely been blessed with you as my daughter.

    But in answer to your question, I’m pretty much doing what I want to now, except for the necessary business of helping my brother die with as much dignity as possible.

    And even if it isn’t what I’d choose to do, I hope I’m doing it well.

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