I remember watching a bird drown in a river last year. There was nothing I could do to help it. Its wing was broken and it floated helplessly in the water. I couldn't reach. I couldn't even move. I stood, paralyzed, watching its final heartbeats, its last helpless movements making circles in the water. The ripples almost made it to my feet.
This was not some perverse pleasure that made me stay, it was a need to witness something pure, something animal, something denied to us in polite society. This was the closest I have come to death in a long time. For me, a funeral is not death. It is merely the completion of life, a boxed-up body hiding from mortality. No wonder people gawk at car accidents; they need to whether they admit it or not.
Death is an essential part of life, no matter how hard we try to avoid it. We put our old in nursing homes, our sick in hospitals, our dead in cold, isolated morgues away from anything we might have to look at, hoping that the icy cleanliness of strangers will turn death into something we can stomach. Sterility is not the right kind of death.
I needed to watch that bird die. It was pure, it was final, it was complete. As the carcass floated away I felt like I had witnessed something beautiful.
No matter where I end up, at least I will have this. I will watch each sunrise with the knowledge that I am a part of it, not watching from the outside.