“To be born again, first you have to die,” exclaims Gibreel Farishta, one of Salman Rushdie’s co-protagonists in The Satanic Verses, as he plunges towards what appears to be his death, with his continued life already a miracle in itself, given that the plane he was on, the one that vomited him out after it itself had burst open–exploded, actually, from a terrorist’s bomb–the Bostan, proved inept at preventing Gibreel’s pirouettes and breastrokes through the air. He welcomed the transformation that would be necessary for him to start anew.
The conditions necessary for Gibreel to transform, to metamorphosize–to be born again, as he says it–were imposed on him and demanded nothing less than death. In the end, death is what Gibreel received. And we, the readers, do not know in what way he is born again. For the book ends a few pages shortly thereafter.
Gibreel’s phrase got me thinking, “Is death truly necessary to be born again?” More to the point, is physical death truly necessary or will a lateral death suffice, something not quite so total, such as, the compromiser’s death; a symbolic death. Tragedy, its gravity and profundity, doesn’t allow such milquetoast gestures. A participation trophy for death? No. One must truly, physically, die, such that there can be no question that one’s biology, as it was constructed at birth, no longer exists. And I, Mr. Compromise, the whining child, can’t help but ask, “Why?” though I know exactly the answer to my question even as I utter the interrogatory.
The first question I ask, the one that actually matters and, at least to me, appears to be of substance because it puts me on the path of honesty, born as I know of self-reflection, is, “Why should I want to be born again?” If I must die, and it turns out that, in fact, the Hindus and the Buddhists have it right about samsara, which implies the correct idea that one should always be re-born to strive towards a better, that is to say, more authentic experience, then authenticity is the correct measurement by which one should judge their present, past, and future existence. Today, authenticity is understood to mean an honest life.
Why should I want to be born again? Because I do not currently live an honest life. Mr. Compromise, upon letting the word touch his lips and allowing its neither-here-nor-there commitments, but just enough to get by, to fit the chipped square, by force as is necessary, into the perfect quadrilateral space, proclaims, “Good enough,” in perpetuity. This existence is already tainted, not by imperfection, but by its shame of that imperfection.
I know at least some of the ways in which my existence is not honest. But while the preceding words may sound like a never-ending castigation of my self, I reject what I have often termed as unnecessary suffering. My line with the Buddhists and Hindus and the Christians is set firmly against unnecessary suffering and self-blame. I know the many ways in which I fail. I do not fault my self entirely for these failings. Rather, the failings and mistakes are objectives to remedy in this life. The hope, if I were to subscribe to the idea of reincarnation, in which a parcel of who I am is to continue on, because that Devil Compromise succeeded previously–but may not again–is that I do not continue, in perpetuity, to struggle against the failings I had at least one lifetime to fix. Shouldn’t one lifetime be enough? I’d certainly hope so.
Then the question becomes, once one is born again, “What do you need this time around to repel the Devil Compromise?” The answer, I believe, is known, or rather should be known, to our present selves. I feel that I know it–it’s certainly not some groundbreaking idiom or unheard of wisdom. It is, simply, courage. That bow-knotted lion, beset by shyness and paralyzing fear, so unlike its savannah countertype, is, unfortunately, the Familiar given me by the pagan gods (not to draw any association with pagans and Devils). Courage manifested through speech, for now, will do. Once that has been mastered, then perhaps in another lifetime, also courage manifested through action. The two do not always follow from one another. My subtle acts of courage are just that: subtle; disguised; hidden; an island of honesty in a sea–a vast, vast, expanse of surveillance and disapproval that I allow to encroach on my shores, like ever rising tides, a demarcation line along the 38th parallel whose intrusion continues, unpunished, and leaving me a worn sponge.
But the island is what I must cherish and I am not without the means to make artificial buoys–other islands, or expansions of my own–admittedly, at will. All that is needed is courage, an amount equivalent to the sand a child could dig up with his plastic, green beach shovel. With time, I may even form a castle; a dwelling, built as only I could make it, with sufficient ability and talent to furnish it as I desire. The structure would be nothing less than a monument to the honesty I strove towards, envisioned–achieved. In this distant island, I pour, even if only specks, grains of honesty.
Because if we are all to die, dear Gibreel, the saint Reconciliation is the rightful guide on our journey. In this way, I have stumbled upon meaning, that of my own life.