Today marks the first day of South Africa’s 21-day lockdown. It also marks South Africa’s first recorded deaths from Covid-19 – adding to the more than 25,000 Covid-related deaths worldwide. Hundreds of thousands are mourning. Millions are fearful. In Western society, we are accustomed to hiding death in intensive care units, hospices, funeral homes and euphemisms. But suddenly, and quite brutally, death stares us all in the face whichever way we look. How do we make sense of it? How do we adjust to this new reality?
Through this blog, I hope that you will find solace, and perhaps even some answers, in the beauty and wisdom of the desert – captured in photographs captioned by literary quotes from poems, books, and scholarly texts. In the desert, there is no concealment of death. Signs of death in the desert are almost as ubiquitous as evidence of life. Therein lies incredible beauty. The messages intended by the images and quotations in this blog are that death need not be feared, fought or hidden, and that acceptance of our own mortality opens opportunities for beauty and renewal.
All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again.
~ Ecclesiastes 3:20
The world is so exquisite with so much love and moral depth, that there is no reason to deceive ourselves with pretty stories for which there’s little good evidence. Far better it seems to me, in our vulnerability, is to look death in the eye and to be grateful every day for the brief but magnificent opportunity that life provides.
~ Carl Sagan
The strangest of our powers
Is the courage to live
Knowing that we will die,
Knowing nothing more true.
~ Nazim Hikmet Ran, In the Snowy Night Woods
I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.
~ Mark Twain
Across the desolation lay a supreme indifference, the casualness of night and another day, and yet the secret intimacy of those hills, their silent consoling wonder, made death a thing of no great importance.
You could die, but the desert would hide the secret of your death, it would remain after you, to cover your memory with ageless wind and heat and cold.
~ Fante J
Why should I fear death? If I am, death is not. If death is, I am not.
Why should I fear that which cannot exist when I do?
Life is the desert, life the solitude, death joins us to the great majority.
~ Edward Young
I have come to know that it [death] is an important thing to keep in mind — not to complain or to make melancholy, but simply because only with the honest knowledge that one day I will die I can ever truly begin to live.
~ R.A. Salvatore, The Halfling’s Gem
Death must be so beautiful. To lie in the soft brown earth, with the grasses waving above one’s head, and listen to silence. To have no yesterday, and no tomorrow. To forget time, to forget life, to be at peace.
~ Oscar Wilde, The Canterville Ghost
It is as natural to die as it is to be born.
~ Francis Bacon
In the desert, the line between life and death is sharp and quick.
~ Brian Herbert & Kevin J. Anderson, The Butlerian Jihad
Art is long and life is brief and mortality looms.
~ Margaret Atwood, The Robber Bride
The boundaries which divide Life from Death are at best shadowy and vague. Who shall say where the one ends, and the other begins?
~ Edgar Allan Poe, The Premature Burial
End? No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass, and then you see it.
~ J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King
That flesh is but the glass, which holds the dust
That measures all our time; which also shall
Be crumbled into dust.
~ George Herbert, The Complete English Poems
Embrace death, dance with it a while, and finally fall prey to it.
~ Darren Shan, Bec
Accepting death doesn’t mean you won’t be devastated when someone you love dies. It means you will be able to focus on your grief, unburdened by bigger existential questions like, “Why do people die?” and “Why is this happening to me?” Death isn’t happening to you. Death is happening to us all.
~ Caitlin Doughty, Smoke gets in your Eyes: and Other Lessons from the Crematory