Death Be Not Proud… I’m Not

Cowardly LionOkay.  So I’m a coward.  Let’s get that straight up front.  Not so much a physical coward (tho’ I don’t particularly like pain) as much as a mortal coward.  I have a healthy fear, dread, and abhorrence of death.  “Healthy” being the keyword there.

Death is the great motivator.  Not life.  Life can wait.  Death has a tendency to barge through waiting rooms.  Especially, say, when you grab the end of a fallen power line or take that wrong turn at the 30th floor window.  Death is a bully, that’s what death is.  And I don’t like bullies.  Who does?  Well, besides those beautiful women we all know who feel a strange attraction for dominating brutes.  Hmm… maybe I should look into this bully thing before I judge it so harshly.

Now about those berserker samurai of Japan…  Wait.  First off, I want to put this out there:  this is not a blog about Japan. Although I happen to be studying much about the Japanese right now, this will probably be my final entry on Japanese culture for awhile, as I’m moving on.  I hope we can still be friends.

But back to those wacky samurai…  These guys blow my little cowardly mind.  Dying for their masters is the foundation of their existence.  And they’ll give up a heartbeat in a heartbeat.  What a western warrior might get a demotion for, these guys would commit seppuku for.  A samurai’s lord would just say, “I order you to commit suicide for failing me,” and zip!—out comes the wakizashi (short sword), and the dude’s making minced-belly pudding, and if he’s lucky there’s some other samurai standing by to chop off his head and spare him from the slow painful death of an abdominal wound.  I have to say, I’d consider myself in the wrong profession if the lucky event of my final day on the job was that someone was nearby to severe the head from my body.  I like my head.  I’m quite attached to it actually.

Laying down one’s life for someone –or worse, for some nebulous “cause” (!)  I just can’t get the math to come out right on that one.  Let’s say, I ride a cargo laden space shuttle out into space to drill a hole in an asteroid, and then I throw some nukes down the hole and blow it to space dust but I don’t have time to escape, so I die.  Hero.  Just saved the whole planet.  They’ll be a calendar day marked with my name.  Stores all over the country will have blow-out linen sales to mark the occasion.  But meanwhile, I’m dead.  Where’s the profit for that in me?  Certainly no linen sales percentages.  Yeah cool, happy the world’s still there for you, bro.  But I’m not.  Bum deal if ever I heard one.  You go save the world this time, mac.  I’ve got two more Hobbit movies to watch.

Anyway, according to Richard Tames’ The Traveller’s History Of Japan, the cherry blossom symbolized the ideal attitude for the samurai.  This is because the cherry blossom does not wither on the branch but falls away in full bloom, at the height of its magnificent glory.  The type of flora that best symbolizes my own attitude would be something more along the lines of a clinging vine.  I’d be kudzu—you’d have to burn me out before I’d let go of life’s giving tree.

Final note:  Tame has written an excellent book in The Traveller’s History Of Japan (yes, I keep the original spelling of Traveller; I like it; reminds me of General Lee’s faithful steed).  This is the kind of history that a non-scholar would be interested in when wanting to learn about Japan.  I really couldn’t imagine a better overall introduction to the history and culture.  I highly recommend it.  Just don’t read it while walking near any high rise windows.  Like most everything—it ain’t worth dyin’ for.

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