Instance of the flea

An etching of a plague-transmitting flea Something small to cause something big

If we are to believe the code of the Samurai as filtered through the narration of the movie Ghost Dog (I wasn't interested enough to check primary texts) then thinking about death is not a bad thing to do. Now let me get one thing straight, right up front: I am not 'half in love with easeful death' as Keats put it, and I am pleased to report that I have never contemplated suicide. There but for the grace of the gods go I. This post is not about such vexed matters, and I would refer anyone troubled by thoughts of self-harm to Beyond Blue, a good site for help and information.

No, this post is not about hastening the approach of death, something I am keen to avoid. This post is about life, and the enrichment of same that can be yielded by a quiet, sober awareness of death's inevitability. This is certainly not an original thought, but an important one to touch on early in this blog nevertheless. At any rate, too much time is spent avoiding thinking about obvious or unoriginal things: I have expounded my thoughts on this issue here. Death certainly fits this category.

So what's with the flea? Of course, there is the obvious - this tiny agent of chaos was instrumental in the decimation of the population of Europe in the mid 14th Century. How many prodigies of art, music and science were culled from our history? Several centuries later the poet and polymath John Donne (1572-1631) understood the metaphysical potential of this diminutive creature, although in his case the metaphor was one of sex, evoked by the image of the mixing of blood in the flea's mouth, rather than death.

There is something about these two aspects of the flea that seem intrinsic to its nature. It is a mere fleck or mote, and yet with a long enough lever it may shift the foundations of the entire world. Death is never far away, and as vain and superfluous as it is to say so, I think that's ok. It's not like any of us have a choice about it! The presence of death in my personal network over the last two years has made the following very clear: some things matter, and many things really don't. Friends and family fit the former category, while career and most other things do not.