O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?
The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law.
1 Corinthians 15: 55-56
His own life is a murder mystery; the murder just hasn’t been committed yet.
He started a book called The Untethered Soul but stopped after the first chapter. The first chapter asked who he was. Who are you, really? It followed a sequence that eliminated the obvious answers. He was not a name. A job. A role. A body. It concluded that his true self was the continuous presence inside himself that was watching him be.
That “thing” – the self – is the detective in the murder mystery. Time is the killer. The victim will be the name, the job, the role, the body that this self is wearing. So much for the murder: what’s the mystery?
Can the detective figure out the meaning of himself before time gets him?
Most money is on no.
There’s the tree outside his dining room window. He has watched himself watching the leaves all shrug off and leave the branches bare. Watched the buds with their furry down. Now a couple have burst open in little sprays of pink petal froth. That train of thought is about nature’s cycles and time. It’s a familiar thought. A daily one. The flow. That tree in his back garden begins to connect with many other things in his memory. A thought is a seed and the seed’s roots and stem and leaves organically connect to familiar roots, stems and leaves of other memories in the ecology of his mind.
The plum tree in his Gran’s back garden. The preserved plums in her pantry and the Camellia you could see through the pantry window. The cherry blossom in Osaka, Kyoto. Photos of the Blossom Festival in Alexandra in the 1960s. His mum and dad back then. A section in Alex. Limited edition Sakura beer.
How quickly it all forms and joins like a police inquiry pin board covered in photos, maps and papers, joined by strings, scattered with post-it notes, liberally splattered with question marks. The detective stands back. Is there something he’s not seeing? Or is it a dead end. Maybe the tree in the back garden means nothing. Or maybe the message is clear but too blunt to be palatable. Turn, turn, turn.
A student asked the group he was sitting in: “do you fear death?” Most people didn’t but he did.
He wants the thing that makes you immune to that fear. Faith? Understanding? Something that would enable him to be able to say, and mean, “death, where is thy sting?” The peace of anything that would surpass all understanding would do.
It can’t be normal to grieve for the present can it?
Surely the divine master key for him would be with music.
Once, in a terrible and blank mood, he drove through sluicing rain in the middle of winter along the road by Lake Taupō and listened to Lift To Experience. The lake was choppy and drear, the reeds cold arthritic sticks, mist in the trees, damp houses and deserted caravan parks. The music had all the terror and awe in it of man in the face of Old Testament God.
With Crippled Wings.
He doesn’t believe in the saviour just in the fear and suffering. Sometimes in the hope. So, crippled wings.
Later the lyrics describe a faith so complete it will overcome drowning. It is not so much a song as a hymn, and the final verse starts:
Death where is thy sting?
Grave where is thy victory?
Except the sound of the hymn is terrifying. It doesn’t undercut the words, or call the words into doubt, it reinforces how full of awe, how full or fear and trembling the kind of faith this song describes would actually be.
He watches himself watching the rain. The branches of the tree outside the dining room window are darker now. For a time some birds sit on the power lines, their black feathers slicked and wet. The hills behind are a little fainter, the leaves on the hedges a deeper green. He can see the rain rolling in sheets down the valley from the north towards the sea.
The detective is tired. Time is accumulating its weapons. He turns the radio on.