Death is binary. Something is alive and then it’s dead. On. Off. One. Zero. On the blank scientific face of it, there’s not much more to say about the subject. But we know that’s not true because, well, of course there is more to say. Since life complicates death and vice versa, it’s difficult to reduce it to so simple a calculation. There’s the past and the future to consider too. It’s complicated.
Take for example, the death of Fidel Castro. I’ll step lightly here, but from my understanding — and the basic math of it — Castro was responsible for a lot of pain and anguish. People (and history) will tell you about some of the good he did for Cuba, and his ideals in the face of a punishing American machine. But also, a lot of people died by his action and decree. There are layers to this thing, is my point — and I hardly feel qualified to discuss it further.
In my own little window of life, I’ve absorbed death lately through art (and art alone, knock on wood). I read a brief essay by Teju Cole called “A Better Quality of Agony,” which was published in his book of collected works Known and Strange Things. The essay regards the memoir Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala, which recounts her immense loss via a tsunami that struck the coast of Sri Lanka, killing her husband, parents, and two young children. As Cole points out, “her past, present and future” were wiped away in one terrible moment. The grief Deraniyagala grapples with is, as Cole describes it, like a sun at which she cannot stare directly. And like the sun, it becomes impossible to avoid or escape it completely. How does one make sense of all that?
A filmmaker like Kenneth Lonergan tries, in his way, to do it by stitching death into the everyday fabric of life. His latest film Manchester by the Sea is steeped in anger and grief. It is at times a despairing film, but it is also funny, warm, and, if you can believe it, hopeful. It acknowledges, like Deraniyagala and Cole’s work, like even those Castro retrospectives, there are no easy answers when it comes to death. It remains an equation we cannot solve, but something we must continue to work through.
Let’s bounce back from that heaviness. If there is peace (if not happiness) to be found in death, it can only be uncovered in a reexamination of life. It’s elemental like that. For Lucas Nogueira, our man Bebe, it means playing the game of basketball with a joyful intensity. (Through more Raptors wins, he had another up-and-down week by the way: as many points scored as fouls, and only some powerful blocks to really write home about.)
As he told assembled reporters after a question from the Star’s Doug Smith, Bebe isn’t just playing and living that way for no reason. “I like to live life with a lot of intensity, love and laugh and smile, jokes. And people judge me, why I live so intensely,” Bebe said. “The reason I live intensely is those things. You never know when our time is coming. I don’t live intensely because I’m crazy. I live intensely because I want to do everything before death, because unfortunately, you never know what’s gonna happen.”
(You can read the whole quote here by the way. Thanks to Blake “The Machine” Murphy for the transcription.)
For all of Bebe’s goofy humour and maddening inconsistency on the court, this is a profound and clear-eyed statement. Yes, we’ve heard sentiments like this before — it’s practically a bumper sticker these days — but it remains true nonetheless.
But still, tough-talking aside, death remains hard, man. In my own life, I’ve largely been able to avoid the hardest of blows — sudden or accidental deaths, rampant disease, bad fortune. I consider myself lucky. Who among us is not connected to someone with a more familiar relationship to someone’s end — a missing parent, an absent sibling, a friend long gone. It happens.
For his part, Nogueira was asked about life and death because of his own tangential brush with it: the recent plane crash that killed almost all members of the Chapecoense soccer team, a Brazilian club.
Hearing Nogueira talk about the Chapecoense story and the people he knows is hard. He has a small smile on his face, but it’s not a joyful one. It suggests something different, more “can you believe the world sometimes?” and less a joke — which is the kind of smile we most often associate with Bebe.
I feel like Lucas is on to something. What else could be said in a moment like that? You have to laugh, sputter out your frustrations, perhaps through tears, and maybe all at the same time. Or maybe don’t for a little while.
As I said off the top, it’s complicated.
Level of High Level
I noticed the other day that the original couple entries of this column had words in this space, so I’m trying to bring that back, trying to keep it alive as it were. We’re all still living under the sun, and that’s reason enough to feel good about something.
High Level Result: 7 out of 10 — Tragedy strikes, basketball is present, and we continue to look ahead into an unknown future.