The twelve words of this Zen death poem are the only record of Fusen, the monk who wrote them as he lay dying in his 57th year. In my own 57th year I looked down into the toilet I had just used and saw bright clouds of blood forming lazy cumulus shapes in the water. A round of cancer tests followed, administered by a doctor who insisted that “things like this don’t just happen.”
Anyone who’s being tested for a life-threatening disease lives in suspended animation. Our lives become drifting swirls of probability where futures emerge like faces, sometimes kind and sometimes fierce, only to recede with the next lab report. We’re like Schrödinger’s cat from the physicist’s thought experiment, locked in a lead box and neither alive nor dead—or rather, both alive and dead—until someone looks inside. Meanwhile indifferent strangers probe our bodies, or slip us into imaging machines where we scratch at the metal walls like cats.
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