Vonnegut's Dance with Death
There I was at Ocean City in the early 70s with my wife and family, which included at the time two toddlers and an Irish setter. I love vacationing at the Jersey shore with the beaches, the sun, and the sand. It was a time to unwind and do nothing. However, doing nothing does not work for me very long...maybe a day or two. After that, I need something to do. I would take the kids to the amusement park, take Ginger, our Irish setter, for long walks, or go to the small seashell shop and buy pretty seashells with the children.
However, the rest of the time, I spent reading on the beach. During this summer vacation, I read Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five.
There I was on those hot summer days reading on the beach about Billy Pilgrim, who was an American POW in Dresden. The Germans had converted a slaughterhouse into a prison for captured Allied soldiers during WWII. However, the bombing of the Allies of Dresden worsened Pilgrim's life as a POW. He had to deal with the Nazis in addition to 3,000 British and American bombers over Dresden, which killed 25,000 German civilians.
While reading about Pilgrim in Slaughterhouse-Five, the sun beat down upon me and I often was not sure where I was. I would float between the hot beach sand at Ocean City and the heat created by the fire bombings at Dresden. There were times during those hot summer days that I would have to force myself to determine where I actually was. Nonetheless, I loved Slaughterhouse-Five.
Now, jump ahead with me nearly a half century. Just a couple of years ago, I had to go to a hardware store in Indy. While there, a sales associate and I got into a long discussion in which I discovered that this store had been owned by the parents of Kurt Vonnegut. Hence, we got into a long discussion about Slaughterhouse-Five.
The next jump is to the present day. I came across something that Vonnegut said, "No art is possible without a dance with death." Vonnegut's comment was about art; however, it is true about life in general. Dancing with death is crucial to living life to the fullest. Without the dance, we do not realize the brevity of life resulting in wasting much of life.
Finally, return with me to the beach at Ocean City where I read Slaughterhouse-Five. I am sure that I noticed the subtitle and merely blew it off since it had no meaning to me, due to the fact that I had not yet danced with death. The subtitle is The Children's Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death.
Vonnegut addressed what Steve Jobs, Randy Pausch, Oliver Sacks, Professor Keating, and Saul Alinsky were saying about dancing with death. It will enliven the person that dances. Dancing successfully with death allows us to live longer with the drive to accomplish something of value. The quality of life improves due to knowing that we are not immortal. That realization gives us the drive and determination to do what we wish to do before we are gone forever. It enables us to produce, as in the case of Vonnegut, great writing. He reminds us all, "No art is possible without a dance with death." However, whatever our interests might be, that realization of our finite time here on Earth gives us motivation and purpose. Professor Keating told his students, "Carpe Diem."
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