Marriage is like the process of learning to swim. It doesn’t matter how big or fancy your pool is, just like it doesn’t matter how good your husband is. If you don’t know how to swim, you will drown in any case, and someone else who knows how to swim will get to enjoy the pool.
-Ming Li in Jiayang Fan’s article “The Third Person” from the 27 June 2017 issue of The New Yorker
Anyone who’s sure of themselves, of their morals and intentions, is not truly ethical, is not struggling heroically with the mandate of genuine responsibility. It is impossible ever to be fully responsible because you are never done being responsible or never responsible enough–you’ve never given or offered or done enough for those suffering, for the poor, the hugry. That’s a law shared by Dostoyevsky, Levinas, and Derrida: one never meets one’s responsibility quota, which is set at an infinite bar (hence the figure of Christ, our infinite creditor).
-Avital Ronell, Examined Life: Meaning
We’re beings towards death, we’re featherless two-legged linguistically conscious creatures born between urine and feces whose bodies will one say be the culinary delight of terrestrial worms.
-Cornel West, Examined Life: Truth
Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it. We anticipate (we know) that someone close to us could die, but we do not look beyond the few days or weeks that immediately follow such an imagined death. We misconstrue the nature of even those few days or weeks. We might expect if the death is sudden to feel shock. We do not expect this shock to be obliterative, dislocating to both body and mind. We might expect that we will be prostrate, inconsolable, crazy with loss. We do not expect to be literally crazy, cool customers who believe that their husband is about to return and need his shoes. In the version of grief we imagine, the model will be “‘healing.’ A certain forward movement will prevail. The worst days will be the earliest days. We imagine that the moment to most severely test us will be the funeral, after which this hypothetical healing will take place. When we anticipate the funeral we wonder about failing to ‘get through it,’ rise to the occasion, exhibit the ‘strength’ that invariably gets mentioned as the correct response to death. We anticipate needing to steel ourselves for the moment: will I be able to greet people will I be able to leave the scene, will I be able even to get dressed that day? We have no way of knowing that this will not be the issue. We have no way of knowing that the funeral itself will be anodyne, a kind of narcotic regression in which we are wrapped in the care of others and the gravity and meaning of the occasion. Nor can we know afraid of the fact (and here lies the heart of the difference between grief as we imagine it and grief as it is) the unending absence that follows, the void, the very opposite of meaning, the relentless succession of moments during which we will confront the experience of meaninglessness itself.
— Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking