Learning to Die

I have taken the title of this post from Roy Scranton’s book Learning to Die in the Anthropocene: reflections on the end of a civilization. Anthropocene means the age of human kind. You can find the introduction and first chapter on-line.

Scranton begins by describing his entrance to Baghdad in 2003 as a private in the American army:
in the blue dawn Baghdad rose from the desert like a vision of hell: flames licked the bruised sky from the tops of refinery towers, cyclopean monuments bulged and leaned against the horizon, broken overpasses swooped and fell over ruined suburbs, bombed factories and narrow ancient streets.
Shock and awe had destroyed the infrastructure, reduced governmental order to brutal tribalism and eventually destroyed the secular middle class, leaving gangsters, profiteers, fundamentalists and soldiers. An ancient civilization destroyed.

In spite of the advantages afforded Scranton by the U.S. military might and technical superiority, he knows there are any number of ways he could die each day. He quotes Simone Weil, “For a soldier death is the future.” So every morning as Scranton readies his Humvee for the road, he practices dying, imaging himself being blown up, shot, burned, run over by a tank, torn apart by dogs and beheaded. Once he is ready, he can set forth without concern.

Two and a half years later, he is safely back Stateside until Hurricane Katrina. His unit begins training for riot control. “The grim future I saw in Baghdad had come home.”

Theoretically, I am not a soldier. I am an 84-year-and-10-month old woman in the middle of a Covid pandemic, more or less housebound for 11 months. (Aren’t we all soldiers as we engage this implacable foe?)

At the age of 6, I was brutally raped and would have chosen to die if not for Aunt Mae, who knew how to heal with love, dreadful herb tea, raspberry pie and reading. Catching the rapist was not an option. He was the family breadwinner.

I have just been watching season 3 of The Sinner on Netflix, in which the villain has been bent all out of shape by fear of death. This fear has led him to become a murderer. – looking death in the face and all that. Interesting plot device. I didn’t have that luxury. I had a baby sister.

In the end, there were 4 children in my unit and we all survived. That is we are all alive now in our old age. In the next generation, we were not so lucky. Two of my nephews are gone. Several daughters have had close calls with despair. There is a thriving generation of great grandchildren. My own are girls, Texans -good grief- who, I imagine will live to be as old as my sister and me – 2097(?) They are going to have to be soldiers to deal with that life on earth. Please keep them out of Houston at least.

I intend to write Learning to die #2 Practicum, #3 Theory, #4 in the Anthropocene