Our species is driven by our own mortality. We seek to leave our mark on the world because we are afraid of the idea that one day the sun will rise and I, personally, will not be around to see it. To combat the impermanence, we give birth to progeny, seeking immortality through blood and legacy. We create art, hoping to leave an imprint of ourselves on the minds and hearts of others. We forge every kind of empire we can imagine: geographical, philosophical, financial or entirely made of bytes of data. We struggle and strive to create and endure so that some small shout of our existence projects out into the great dark, a testament to the fact that we were once here, and that our time and passage mattered.
I have found that as I grow older, I focus less on myself and instead turn my attention and concern outwards more often. Don’t get me wrong, I am not entirely devoid of self-interest, but now I fear the loss of others, of those I love, more than my own ending. When I am done and gone, I move on to whatever is next, but when others around me die, especially violently, needlessly or unexpectedly, I have to suffer through the grief of their passage and restructure my own life to acknowledge their absence.
When I was in college, I participated in a number of table top RPGs, both as a player, and as a storyteller. I remember one session in particular in which the whole party almost perished, but through skill and no small amount of luck, they pulled through. They were battered and beaten, but they lived to play another day. I asked one of my players later why they all seemed so satisfied even though they survived only by the smallest margin. Her response? “Because we all knew that you would have killed the entire party had we made a mistake, and yet we still survived. Even if we had died, it would have meant something and been awesome.”
Our characters stand in proxy for the reader, and through them, our audience is able to face the terror of their own mortality from a safe distance. As a writer, then, I must keep in mind the fear and desire for meaning as I craft my story. I can use it to build tension, but the danger must feel legitimate. I can use it to bring pain, but I must first invest the time in building the emotional bond. I can work the death of a protagonist into the climax, but it must be foreshadowed and in character. In the end, I have found that death in fiction, especially self-sacrifice, brings its own meaning. As writers, there is no need for us to fear the final loss.Tags: Sequence 03: Musical Musings