Do you see the World from the Half Empty or Half Full Perspective – Half Empty

In his undervalued novel Another Country, James Baldwin wrote, “Life is tragic simply because the earth turns and the sun inexorably rises and sets, and one day, for each of us, the sun will go down for the last, last time.”  

We die. We may die suddenly, without a good-bye, leaving those close to us unprepared to deal with the loss. On the other hand, we may die slowly, painfully, and conscious every waking moment of what awaits us, while we pass away from cancer or heart disease. Many people will not look at this. They will think of Jesus, or they will take a few more vitamins or a drink, or perhaps they’ll jog an extra half mile.

People die. Sometimes they die en masse, nameless and unmourned. That is horrible. How can we bear to kill one another, knowing how irrevocable death is? How can we who are left endure this preview and this bereavement?

Yet sometimes death is a blessing. Anyone who has seen another person die of a bad cancer, or enter end-stage MS, or suffer from one of so many other diseases, knows that it is. That’s even more horrible.

Quite possibly, it is our consciousness of hovering death that makes us cling to one another in love, our most human emotion. Love drives out fear, the bible says. It drives out our fear of death.

In solitary fear, we produce great works of beauty or logic. Art and science, I believe, arise out of our consciousness of certain death. With these structures of reason or enlightenment, we wall out the endless silence.

It does not work, of course. Yet our loves and our labor bring us the sharpest satisfactions of life. They make us the most alive. It feels almost as if they contend with the death waiting within us.

Another Country tells, among other things, the story of a man who kills himself. Mr. Baldwin allows his character to make this incomprehensible decision, but then the book goes on. It picks up other characters, more interesting lives, more complicated fates.

Yet these are characters, and plainly displayed as fiction. They might almost be illustrations of the choices a human can make. This is what happens if a man kills himself: He dies; they bury him. Another man chooses to live, in another country.  He goes on, at least for a while.

James Baldwin’s unflinching look at the pessimistic truth that life ends gives Another Country its power. The book acknowledges that someday, the glass will certainly be empty.