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.
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.