"The Only Fact We Have"

I routinely return to my commonplace book to review what I've read. It's a rewarding exercise that often reveals new thoughts and connections.

This past year, I read James Baldwin's immensely powerful The Fire Next Time. Reviewing my notes for the book, I was struck (again) by this passage in particular:

Life is tragic simply because the earth turns, and the sun inexorably rises and sets, and one day, for each of us, the sun will go down for the last, last time. Perhaps the whole root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will sacrifice all the beauty of our lives, will imprison ourselves in totems, taboos, crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques, races, armies, flags, nations, in order to deny the fact of death, which is the only fact we have. It seems to me that one ought to rejoice in the fact of death – ought to decide, indeed, to earn one’s death by confronting with passion the conundrum of life. One is responsible to life: It is the small beacon in that terrifying darkness from which we come and to which we shall return. One must negotiate this passage as nobly as possible, for the sake of those who are coming after us.

Beyond its poetry, Baldwin's words offer a timeless perspective. The roots of tribalism likely stems from our fear of death. However, we can choose to respond with courage by "confronting with passion the conundrum of life." I'm enamored with the idea of turning death on its head, transforming it from a cause of division to a motivating reality. It's essential that we halt the tide of fear by remembering Baldwin's reminder that we be "responsible to life," a notion that calls to mind another idea that I've committed to: carrying the fire.