One of the running prejudices that shows no sign of fatigue or going away in the corner of the world I know something about is the idea that all, or most, of our principal lunacies and strategies for self defeat live in our cities. Cities, full of operatic potential and wizardry, are our crazy places. They are factories of delusion, heat and unspectacular human lostness. My two children live in a city, and I admit that these prejudices play across my mornings from time to time, and I wish they’d consider coming to live on the farm, or at least to something smaller, which will never happen in my life time.
One sane and sustaining response that continues to have currency, mostly among city people, is: get your crazy butt to the country. The country will heal the madnesses. It will coax your sorrow up to the surface and wash it away with the first pure, hard rain. If you demand bread and not circuses, no problem: cities are circuses, and bread (wheat, spelt, rye or what have you) comes from the country. Get yourself out to the country, where the water tastes like wine. The country will revive your early, untested solutions for personal happiness, relentlessly fixing you with its green self. As if it had nothing else to do. As if the rehabilitation of your inner life was its current, secret reason for being there. And when your time comes, and the end of your days are in sight, you’ll hardly notice, so commensurate with the manner of your healing will be the manner of your dying, and you’ll be gathered in by the Great Earth Mother’s loamy embrace, back from whence you came. No matter how you lived before that.
Well, one thing to mention is that there’s less country now than there was even twenty years ago, friends. The main reason for that is the Freedom 55 fuelled steady stream of people coming from the city to the country, or at least to the estate suburbs, when they can finally afford it, for healing. That’s the origin of the hobby farm, and hobby farms are where family farms go to die, severed and managed and finally unmortgaged. Another thing to mention – and this will probably sound unnecessarily harsh, and perhaps it is – is that most every idea of what sanity is and what health is that swirls around those seeking both often comes from them having lived without much of either.
Real health, real sanity for people and for communities, doesn’t come from being free of sickness or craziness, nor from getting as far away from it as you can. Wherever you go, they say, there you are, meaning that you bring yourself on your epic quest for selflessness, meaning that the instinct to get free of illnesses of all kinds itself comes from the illness and the craziness you’re trying to deke. The country, if you’ll forgive me speaking of it as a single, sentient being (it isn’t), isn’t nearly strong enough to pry from your grip anything you insist is you. It isn’t the country’s style to take from you, neither your gold nor your shit. Especially not your fear.
I’ve known more than a few people contemplating their dying in the country, and in truth I haven’t seen an appreciable difference from what I saw in my years in the urban death trade. The fear of dying is a powerful thing, especially and probably uniquely in a death phobic culture, and it doesn’t head for the door when you start learning about it. And it is at home wherever people are, city or country.
So, please consider this: Most dying people are not more knowledgeable about dying by virtue of receiving a terminal diagnosis, or from finding themselves dying. Being afraid of something and knowing about that something are not the same thing, not even close, but fear does an awfully persuasive job of sounding like knowledge: You don’t want that to happen, right? And the prompt is, of course: Well, no, I guess not. Fear isn’t discernment, and most dying people aren’t really afraid of dying. They are – maybe better to say, we will probably be – afraid of disappearing without a trace. Which really means: they are afraid of us being able to proceed, with some period of adjustment, as if they’d never been, something we usually call ‘getting on with our lives’. Which really means: they have great sorrow about what the rest of us will do with them after they die. And that isn’t fear. That is discernment. City or country in our corner of the world, most of us have lived as if the dearly departed have no real need of us, that dying has taken care of that, and it is only in our dying time, city or country, that we begin to catch a real glimpse of what it means for us to have lived that way, and what it may have done to us, and maybe to our dead, and what it means for us now.
One thing the country can teach you is how the dead – leaves, plants, animals, for a start – aren’t gone. There’s no soil without them, and no growth, and no food, and no life. Death – not the fear of death, but real, metabolic and spiritual death – is what feeds life. The country can teach you that this is not a metaphor. This is food. One balm for the fear of death in our time: that we consider joining this honourable, life giving caravan of dead things, so that life lives. Fear of dying isn’t knowing: dying is knowing.
All blessings on your city or country life and, when the time comes, on your city or country dying. And mine.