The Only Meaning In All Of Things

“When I was preparing to be whatever it is I’ve become, I was sent to work in a hospital. Comfort the dying. I remember the mortuary there—it was very Victorian. Neo-Renaissance. In the foyer there was an inscription in Latin. ‘Let smiles cease,’ it said, ‘let laughter flee. This is the place where the dead help the living.’”

The older man in the group the bodiesgot to his feet muttering.

“Bummer!” he shouted at Egan. His heavy face grew red with anger; he raised cupped hands to amplify his voice, and screamed. “Bummer!”

“I’ll describe a picture to you,” Egan told his congregation. “I’m sure you’re familiar with it. A group of men are standing over a pile of corpses. They’re smiling and they have guns. Some of them have tied handkerchiefs across their faces but not to give themselves the raffish air of banditti—because of the smell.”

The priest wiped his mouth with his sleeve and took a cautious step forward. “That’s the big picture, children. That’s how it is now. That’s why you see that picture every week in all the magazines. You know—there are variations, the people, and the uniforms come in different colors, but it’s always the same picture.”

Around them the silences and the darkness deepened. Ramon nuts pattered to the ground through a web of leafy branches, making a sound like soft rain.

“Now why,” Egan asked, “are we made to see this picture week after week until it’s imprinted on the backs of our eyes and we have it before us dreaming and waking?”

No one answered him.

“Will these dead help the living?” he asked. “Are we to seek the living among the dead? What does it mean?”

“And yet,” he said, “and yet—where?” He opened his eyes and peered at them across the firelight. “Because you can stare into the faces of the dead—I’ve been doing it for years, I ought to know—and you won’t see anything. Anything more than plain death, I mean. You can look as sharp as you like, you can pray for a sign, for something, for the slightest hint of something . . . more. Not forthcoming.

“You can look into the dead face of the world, try to catch it unawares—no good. You keep looking, you tell yourself you’ve seen something, some little imitation, you know, of something . . . living. The Living. But it’s no good. You won’t. It won’t reveal itself that way.”

He had been standing, swaying, dangerously close to the fire. The heat warned him away.

“I mean—you look outward. To the stars, to the farthest nebulae. Not a sign. Or you look in. Close your eyes and look down from the outside in and what have you got? Blisters. Skin, eh? Flesh, parasites, sour guts and a little concupiscence. Then we’re down among our several intoxications and delusions and we find our minds, the little devils, the soulsthe devious protean things. Anything more? A glimmer?”

Some of them sat with their eyes closed looking in. Others stared at Egan or into the fire.

“Maybe yes,” Egan said. “Maybe, eh? Who knows down in that mess? But maybe there is something. A little shard of light. What is it?

“It’s the why and wherefore,” the priest said, “that little radiant thing. I’ve never seen it, you know, but it has to be there. It’s the life. The Life. There’s all this death and this dying and it’s the only difference. It’s the only difference things make,” he told them.

“There aren’t angels,” Egan said. “There’s none of that. Thrones. Dominions. All that business—it’s rubbish. But there’s life. There’s the Living among the dead. I mean, you can’t ever quite see it, can you? You’d hardly know it was there but it has to be, doesn’t it? It’s only mislaid.”

He was dizzy, his chest felt hollow. He steadied himself against the stone again.

“Because it’s there—everything’s all right.”

He tried to see each of them among the shadows and flickering light.

“You have to try and find it, see?” Egan said. “If you can’t find it you have to believe in it. If you can’t believe in it you have to hope you will. If you can’t hope then all you can do is love the idea of it. Love it at a distance if that’s the best you can do, children. Love it like a secret lover.”

He seemed perplexed by their silence. He walked around the fire into the semicircle they had formed.

“It’s the only meaning in all of things,” he said. “There aren’t any others.”

—Robert Stone, A Flag For Sunrise

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6 Responses to “The Only Meaning In All Of Things”


  1. 1 Alexa March 29, 2013 at 11:09 pm

    make tu jebita cry again? this is simply beautiful.

    • 2 bluenred March 29, 2013 at 11:47 pm

      We are, here, in incarnation. The right response, it seems to me, is tears. In incarnation. In recognition. In devastation. In imprisonment. In regret. In resignation. In observation. In understanding. In foreseeing. In joy. In peace. In knowing. Into the light.


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