In Praise of Death

The Deadvlei finds itself in Sossusvlei of the Namib Desert. Vlei means a marsh in Afrikaans. Deadvlei is an extremely dried up marsh where dead trees are left out and their trunks are turned into charcoal grey due to relentless scarcity of water. Life as we scientifically define it is absolutely over. However, the dark trees firmly rooted into the thirsty land abundantly emit flow of energy which touches me warmly. I lay my whole body on the white pan and softly put my right ear on it. The warmth absorbed from the morning sunshine caresses my skin. The endless high red dunes draw breath-takingly elegant skylines between the clear blue sky and the paled salt clay. The Deadvlei casts a smell of death odorlessly and leaves me speechless in awe of its hidden beauty.

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I experience for the first time in slaughtering animals as part of the volunteer program at the Kevin Richardson Wildlife Sanctuary. In total six of cows, a horse, and a donkey for the lions, hyenas, and black leopards to be fed. Local farms in the area donate their cattle to the sanctuary when they are dead due to deceases and aging. Usually it costs quite a lot for the local farms to treat their dead cattle. Therefore, giving it away to the sanctuary is a win-win situation.

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With a big sharp knife, I slice the skin off from a dead cow and support sanctuary staff in cutting off the body into pieces. Unless you know the anatomy of the animals, the process of slaughter gets harshly bloody. Not only blood but also whatever liquids that you can imagine flood out of the body. Unbearable stench of putrid flesh and bare internal organ fills in the air. Overnight severe thunder storms often kill wild animals such as impalas which tend to sleep under trees. They are another important source of food for the predators living in the sanctuary. Everyday, phone calls come in to tell the sanctuary “our cows died” “dead antelopes were found.” The staff drive down to pick them up and slaughter them as soon as possible to keep the meats as fresh as possible. Heads, bones, and skins are burned to soils. Internal organs are dumped away for vultures and crows to eat off. In the sanctuary, dead animals are reduced to particles and elements, and return to the cycle of the earth.

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Death is detestable in our society. Our socio-cultural system is developed in a way that occupations related to death are ranked the lowest with disrespect and veiled so that none of us have to be aware of it in our daily life. Longevity and elixir of life become our foremost values, even ethics. Our dreadful effort of avoiding death is tremendously extended and enlarged beyond our bodily consciousness. In return, our intrinsic physical ability of sensing death deteriorates.

Should death be the taboo? Do we have to avoid and procrastinate our death? It is primary instinct of living organisms to avoid death and live out. However, our fear for death is unreasonably intensified. Deluded, distorted emotions and mind which are drifted away from our “animal instinct” weaken our capacity in survival. How often is our false “civilized” fear for death and loss actually lead us to death? Losing a job. The number in your bank account decreasing. Worrying about the others’ judgement on yourself. Becoming an outlier in our group. There is a crucial difference between two: 1) the truly functioned instinct that enables us to sense a risk of death and desperately try to live out; 2) the avoidance of death resulted from our illusionary fear for it because we objectify and externalize loathsome death. We who have evolved in the secluded human empire that institutionalizes our fear and hate for death are missing resilience for life. When death visits us, that’s our turn for departure. It’s an inevitable fate.

I witness various kinds of death through my journey in Africa. Mummified plants and trees in Sossusvlei stand still in the harden white pan. Dead impalas and sheep hit by thunders whose eye lids are hollowly open and necks are completely knocked off like a marionette. Two Lions incredibly easily tear apart an impala’s body for a few seconds. When I enter into their enclosure for cleaning after their meal, nothing but bones is left. The dead one becomes part of the living ones, reincarnated.

What I receive from a myriad of death is my pure surrender with awe towards indispensable beauty. Vitality in corpses. There definitely is energy that death gives and rejuvenates us who are still alive.

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Our lives are based on dead plants and animals. Regardless of vegan or frutalian, our life is gifted upon harvest of death. As soon as we chew, what we put into our mouth can’t help but dying. Dead creatures become our nutrition, blood and flesh. Death fuels life. Black magic worships blood of scapegoats. I feel that our life is by nature somewhat characterized with the essence of black magic. For that there is no good and evil.

My existence is based on my father’s death. (I do NOT mean that his death allows me to grow further or a loss of his life yields a new gain.) Simply, I grope and crawl for all that are generated by a phenomenon of his death, whether it’s negative or positive. It’s beyond dichotomous judgements. Whatever shit it is, every fxxking thing becomes a crop for my living (yes I’m using “negative swear words, I know.) I grapple with my desperate life until the last drop of tears. After a while, I swim in the sea where his ash is spread, looking unconcerned.

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Of course I mourn. Never healed scars of sorrow are curbed deep. So deep as a bottomless swamp. Nevertheless, what has sprouted from the seed of his death, whether it is once regarded as despair, karma, or mercy, ought to be praised. Kudos on death.

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