The experience of the end begins from the very beginning. It is, in fact, already with its first breath that life begins to die. It is our inescapable condition of finitude; it is our condition as mortal beings. As Ecclesiastes recalled, life is only a brief breath of wind between two nothingnesses: the one preceding our coming into the world and the one accompanying our exit.
From this point of view, every living being shares death as its ultimate destination. But, death for human beings, as Heidegger recalled, is by no means to be understood as the last note closing the existing melody, but rather as 'an overhanging imminence'.
Animals like the tree leaves perish, but they do not carry in their lives the awareness of their finite destiny, they do not know the overhanging imminence of death. Their life is at its full, a blissful life, an eternal life. On the contrary, the human form of life is affected from its origin by its end; it cannot escape, even in life, the death presence.
Death, actually, is not only our or others’ death, but it is the experience we encounter in our lives whenever we are confronted with the trauma of loss. This is why Freud conceived the human existence as a continuous series of separations: from intra-uterine life, from the breast, from the mother’ presence, from one's family unit. Every time life advances, it loses a part of itself.
Hegel recalled this in his own way: the condition for a bud to sprout from the earth is that the seed rots. Only animals or gods, as Aristotle said, escape the lack of a character that defines our mortal being. In this sense, our end is already announced from the beginning.
Nevertheless, the end experience remains a proper life experience. It is a crossroads confronting us: on the one hand, the becoming of time imposes its inexorable law. Here again, we can evoke the words of Ecclesiastes: we come from dust and to dust we are destined to return without escape. But, on the other hand, dust itself, as taught by the extraordinary art of Giorgio Morandi and Claudio Parmiggiani, is something remaining through the passing of time. It is the sign of a presence - however fragile, aerial and insubstantial - that never lets itself be reduced to nothing.
Do not the countless deaths and losses surrounding and passing through our lives remain with us always? Are they not presences that have taken the form of absence or absences that are still present? Are we not such living beings destined to carry on what we have definitively lost?
Whereas animal life always lives in a present without past and without tomorrow - life immersed in the pure immediacy of life - human life, on the other hand, appears to be a life marked by absence. In this sense, too, the life’s end is always part of life. The abandonment of pain and the loss of loving; the ideal betrayal or the shattering of a project to which we had dedicated ourselves with passion; the separation from the land in which we were born and the memory of all that has been and is no more. All are experiences where absence becomes present; all are experiences confronting us with the end enigma.
It does not only happen at the time of our irreversible exit from life, but is what accompanies every moment of our lives. The life’s end is, in fact, still a life’s moment, a passage in which it is possible to make something of oneself, an opportunity bearing witness to an existence by collecting the voices of those who have accompanied it. Becoming dust does not mean falling into oblivion, disappearing, but being something that remains, that cannot be completely destroyed, that resists the violence of death.
Indelible memories, unforgettable words, unmistakable scents, times of joy and sorrow, of dancing and emotion, but also simple everyday gestures that remain engraved in our memory. This is the deepest lesson of dust: is not dust the sign of something that remains even in the passing of time? Not only, then, dust as a sign of time passing by, but it is a sign of something that is not completely destroyed by the inexorable nature of becoming, a sign of a remnant that is, indeed, indestructible.
Is this not what happens with our countless dead? Dust remaining with us as a true light. Is this not the fundamental time of inheritance? What do we retain within us of those who have left us? What do we carry within our hearts of that presence that has now become absent? How much light are we able to extract from the dust of our countless dead?
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