coping with death

The Yosemite Sam guide to coping with death

Alan Watts, the philosopher and theologian, uses a neat little metaphor when he talks about life. He says that when we’re born, we’ve been pushed off a cliff. We’re going to hit the bottom at some point, and this terrifies us. So we find ways to deal with the fall. Maybe we pray. We convince ourselves that the earth rushing up at us is not actually the end, that there is another, better fall just beyond it, but that we can’t see. We try to convince ourselves that whoever kicked us off the cliff in the first place had a very good reason for doing so, and that he (she? Probably he.) would not have sentenced us to end in a mere “kersplat.” Kersplat is not noble enough for us fallers.

Maybe, if we lose our trust in the Great Kicker, we try and find ways to prolong the fall. We throw shovels and bombs down at the earth beneath us, hoping the craters they create will buy us more time. We try and pull parachutes, so as to fall slower. Once we realize that this isn’t going to work indefinitely, we try to distract ourselves. Maybe we drink to forget the fall. Some people lose hope or get bored with the fall, and decide to prematurely hasten the oncoming kersplat. The very few people who survive jumping off of the Golden Gate Bridge unanimously say that the moment they stepped off the Bridge, they regretted it. I imagine that regret is something along the lines of, “Oh wait, this is going to happen anyway, why am I helping it along?” Grappling with the Big Kersplat is hard.

Some of us meet someone else who is falling and spend a lot of time with them. Maybe we like this person very much, and decide to fall together with them, eventually having some kids of our own, effectively pushing them off the cliff, with the hopes that their falls will outlast ours, that their falls will be nicer, that there’s a big cushy pillow at the base of their fall, or that perhaps we develop solar powered jetpacks before they hit the bottom, thus saving them from the inevitable kersplat.

Watts doesn’t use the word kersplat. He also doesn’t mention jetpacks. He just came up with the fall idea. I’m the one beating the metaphor to death with a shovel. Beating metaphors to death is a very effective way of distracting myself from the kersplat.

It’s a great metaphor for a number of reasons. The first is that “the Big Kersplat” is a much more exciting phrase than “death,” and the second is that we are literally falling all of the time. The earth is falling around the sun. The sun’s falling around the galaxy. The galaxy is falling through… something. I don’t understand physics particularly well, but I believe the general gist is that big things fall around bigger things, and small things kinda do whatever the fuck they feel like.

It’s also a great metaphor because it allows me to imagine myself as my favorite character from my favorite cartoon, which is, of course, Yosemite Sam in High-Diving Hare. Falling off of high things and then hitting the bottom with a “kersplat” is one of the primary themes in Looney Tunes. Wile E. Coyote does it all of the time. Bugs Bunny does it occasionally, usually with some sort of book to read or maybe with a parachute that turns out to be an anvil. Once, his plane failed to crash, and he says, “I know it’s against the law of gravity, but I never studied law.” It’s certainly funnier than a kersplat, but it’s also cheating.

But no one falls like Yosemite Sam. Yosemite Sam does everything humans do during their falls. He prays.

He panics.

He rages.

He deludes himself.

And then he kersplats.

Watts’ solution for the kersplat problem is a Buddhist one -- it’s to “live in the now” and enjoy the fall. Yosemite Sam’s, I imagine, is more of a “rage, rage against the dying of the light” approach.

I personally find the Big Kersplat harder to deal with on some days rather than others, and I usually prefer to rage against the dying of the light than to enjoy the fall. It’s hard not to fixate on that messy end and to view it with a wee bit of trepidation. But today, I went walking on the beach, and I could hear the cold sea wind whistling through the whiskers of my beard, and for a rare moment, I didn’t see what Yosemite Sam was raging about. Falling is nice.