You’ve probably seen those “Life is good” tee-shirts.  Maybe some of you own one.  A dear friend of mine abhors them, and I think her abhorrence has to do with 1) the ridiculously overly simplified message 2) the faded, pseudo “weathered” quality and bad cut of the tee-shirt, and 3) the bad font and design used.  (I’ll add the evidence to my left as an exhibit for the prosecution.)

But let’s stick with the watered down and nearly meaningless phrase, “Life is good” for a moment longer.  Most people I know would say that Life is a lot of things.  Kind of like soul, perhaps?   George Clinton knew how complicated soul was, when he wrote,  “What is soul?  I don’t know.  Soul is a  ham hock in your corn flakes.” Soul is a lot of things, apparently, some unexpected, perhaps tasty, and surely poetic.

And now let us turn in our dusty lunatics hymnal to John Dee Graham, another musical scholar, about another related overused and vapid expression (“It’s all good”).  John Dee Graham says, “Anyone who tells you that it’s all good is either an idiot or a liar. Because it’s not all good.” (John Dee Graham is the lovable crank who ad libs, in a live performance of a song of his that was used for that firefighter movie with John Travolta, “Cheer up Travolta!”  But that recording was before Travolta’s son died, so I don’t know if JDG would say the same thing so glibly today.  Still, I doubt he’d say, “Life is good.”)

Life is complicated.  Even that is an empty platitude, because now the word “complicated” has been simplified and watered down by that other phrase that’s all over the fracking place, “It’s complicated.” I see it most often posted under relationship status on Facebook.  Yeah, life is complicated.  Relationships are complicated.  Sudoku puzzles (for me) are complicated.  Folding an origami crane is complicated.

But for fun, let’s presume for a moment that Life is good.  Does that mean that Death is bad?  (Is death the opposite of life?)  Isn’t it all really a big circle, a wheel, or something round, that continues, like Ouroboros (I had to do a google search for that name), the snake eating its own tail, forever and ever?  When we can unattach enough to be detached, isn’t that a more complicated and also more accurate way of looking at it all?

To quote another musician on possibly related topics, or at least the recycling of carbon (and life):

“Come down from the cross, we can use the wood.”

“We’re all gonna be just dirt in the ground.”

I’ve been around a lot of death this year.  I don’t know the answer to these questions.  I know about the deer body we saw decomposing across the street in the Clifton Gorge park.  It melted pretty fast.  The other day, I wondered if my precious Houdini, who we buried in 2007, is more than bones now.

What about death?   I want a tee-shirt.

11 thoughts on “Life is good. (What about death?)

  1. I’m glad you brought this up; those t-shirts irk me too. I know it’s not meant this way, but it seems like gloating to me. For so many people in this world, life is not really very good. I hadn’t considered the death angle, but that’s a good point.

  2. Maryellen, so true. It’s nice if the wearer’s life is truly “good” (however they or we define “good”) but yeah. Too much of a generalization, I think. (And I am very guilty of lots of generalizations, especially on a day when the US map looks a lot more red than I would like…)

    On the other hand, there’s a lot to be said for optimism, even in really hard circumstances…

  3. Hmm, I don’t think I said that quite right. I wasn’t thinking so much of over generalization, but more of the callousness of relatively wealthy and pampered people wearing a t-shirt that says “Life is Good” when so many people are living in war, famine, repression, and abject poverty. I can’t read it without thinking, “MY life is good, too bad yours stinks.”

    I remember when I was a kid your dad gave everyone yellow t-shirts that said “Celebrate Life”. I loved that t-shirt and wore mine until it was tissue-paper thin. To me, that message is much more nuanced and inclusive–exhorting one to be optimistic in the face of life’s difficulties. Too bad it would be interpreted as support for the right-to-lifers in this day and age.

  4. Rebecca, this rocks. Thank you (from a very very red state — at least I knew it was coming, unlike in 2004 when I was so shocked I couldn’t get out of bed…) When the distinction between life & death is as pure as an exhale, there will be no need for such pithy shirts (or bumperstickers, or campaign slogans, or …) Life is neither good nor bad; it is, until it is not, at least in the way we are accustomed to experience it. Your beloved Houdini moved to a different part on the snake, on Ouroboros, as did my father, as will I. It’s our stories about what these things are that create the biggest distance and deepest sufferings.

  5. Maryellen, that’s what I got from what you originally posted, but probably my reply wasn’t clear. “Life is good” seems like a very “luxury” position to take, as you say. I need to look online for that “celebrate life” shirt or logo–I had forgotten about that! Yeah, funny (funny? scary?) how simple words can be appropriated by a cause, like “life.”

  6. Laraine, well put, and I agree. I took a really great class a few years ago called Conscious Living/Conscious Dying. It was a year-long class, meeting once per month, and dealt with lots of things, from paperwork (living wills, getting your affairs in order, as it were) to meditations on forgiveness. It was really helpful, to me, as I work toward a level of un-attachment. It was in part inspired (there’s the breath again!) by Steven Levine’s book, A Year To Live. (That book was interesting, but a lot of it washed over me. Still. Good to look into the abyss. So many people, myself included, are really scared of death. But I feel it’s my responsibility to the people around me to do what I can to let go of those fears. A lot of actions follow that letting go, most of which, it seems, will be helpful when I go from breath to non-breath…)

  7. p.s. I like going out to our back yard with my child to see where Houdini is buried, and telling her how Houdini (who she never met–I was pregnant when Houdini died) is down there, feeding the grass.

  8. What if the Life Is Good people know the message is absurd. Doesn’t that make it all better?

    PS : I molested Houdini once when you weren’t home. Whew, glad I finally got that off my chest.

  9. Scott, I guess that would make it better.

    I’m feeling a little nauseated by your joke about Houdini ;) but I appreciate your need to confess.

    It’s great to see you here! I’d love to catch up via email when you can.

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