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Timeline of Death and Dying Events

Jan 21st, 1979

This is only a starting point. In fact many of the political events of the day, whether they would have shaped my conception of death and dying or not were lost to me. It is only, for instance, within the last few years that I discovered the Iranian revolution occured right around the time of my birth.

1983 Nuclear Threats

This is an arbitrary year, but one that is representative of a feeling. The spectre of communism was in the air, and with it the threat of nuclear war. The cold war brought to me a sense of the imminence of death, its suddeness and inexplicability. I learned to link the threat of nuclear attack and hence sudden death with the communist powers. Thus, my personal identity and relationship to death, even at this age, took on political meanings. Isn't it strange, in this way, how years later when we have dreams, some of the same "enemies" from childhood are still with us even though our political understandings become more sophisticated?
I remember how when my mom told me about the Bay of Pigs crisis years later, the Russian experience served as a template for my understanding. How do these experiences shape the way we view a people, in this instance, Cubans, Russians and Chinese? What happens when the ability to engage in nuclear war seems to be solely in their hands, not ours as well? Perhaps our definition of "enemy" rests on who supposedly wishes to -- and can -- bring death upon us. This is not that far a stretch, especially considering the fact that Reagan called the Soviet Union the "Evil Empire", a term any 4 year old child can understand.

1984 Earthquakes

Living in Los Angeles my whole life I managed to become comfortable with the idea that someday an 8.0 magnitude earthquake would some day hit my town. When I went to Europe last year, I thought, what if The Big One were to hit Los Angeles while I am here? How many of my friends and family would loose their lives in a matter of five minutes? Such a fear came from my childhood experience of earthquakes. I remember the rituals of going in doorways or under tables, drills at school where I got chosen to play the injured one who the class left behind in their systematized filing out towards the football field. California would seem strangely less attractive if we did not have these natural disasters to lend the threat of a total overturn of the social order at any minute. I have known people from the Midwest who long to be in earthquakes and get disappointed when they sleep through them. That said, the idea of The Big One and earthquakes in general has terrified and thrilled me since my childhood. It also lent me a fascination with natural disasters in general, such as monsoons, tornadoes, and volcanic eruptions,which I keep to the present day. They are another reminder of the suddenness of death and the instability of the way social life is organized. We have built a civilization on stilts.