death gives meaning to life?


Rachel Padding的眼睛,她的沉思,和自伤的疤痕。| A triptich of Rachel Padding: her deep eyes full of stories, her calm pose at a cemetey and a scar from a self cut.

Notes: English text is below Chinese text.

不到一个星期的时间,我收到噩耗两次。先是纽约的好友丧母。几天后,Rex来电告知其兄已赴黄泉。

好友的母亲,我其实只见过照片。好友爱讲父母的往事,还曾开玩笑说,带我见他母亲——假装做他的女朋友,她一定会问我们什么时候结婚。所以,我总觉得他母亲熟悉而亲切。我也以为会见老人家一面的。没想到,她竟走了。她走了,朋友来信祥叙对母亲的挚爱和崇敬。我好几遍读着他的信,泪水盈盈。

Rex的哥哥生前虽然总像一个不董事的孩子,但他心肠很好,并喜欢吃我做的中国菜。他走的时候还很年轻,所以,大家都觉得震惊。Rex在电话里哭泣。我很难过,不知道怎样安慰他。任何语言都显得苍白、薄弱、无力。唯有默默地倾听,陪他流泪。我更想起他的母亲。没有什么比丧子更悲惨。这是她第二次丧子。此外,她还相继失去了弟弟、父母和丈夫。今年四月,她家里失火,损失惨重。七月,她遭遇车祸,虽然她本人没受重伤,但惊吓了一场。车子撞坏了,也是啰嗦麻烦事。这个曾经年轻、仍旧美丽、聪慧的女人一辈子都多灾多难。真应了中国人常说的“红颜多薄命”。我无法想象她是怎么抗过来的。希望她今后不用再经历惨痛损失,能平静度过余生。

两个生命的忽然消失,让我无语深思。到夜里,就做怪梦。前夜梦见自己双臂的皮肉被削去,只剩下筋骨,那画面就像以前生理学课上老师展示的解剖图。梦里还有一个没有面孔的人,没有性别。他双臂同样没有皮肉。他说,削去旧的皮肉,好让新的皮肉张出来。我于是时不时低头看自己的双臂,似乎在期待新皮肉的生长。

这是不是就是生死相生相承的意思呢?

我想起上个月认识的Rachel Padding。这个年仅22岁的年轻姑娘坚信死亡使得生命有意义。

八月中旬,Padding约我见面。见面地点是马里兰州的Hagerstown一古老墓园里。

她穿过一排墓碑,缓缓朝我走来。她的肢体语言有一种特质:优雅又稍显机械,自信又带着孤独。我们相互微笑点头,然后在一颗大树下坐下,依靠在一块巨大墓旁聊天。

“为什么选择在墓园见面?”我问她。

“这儿很美呀。而且,你看,茂盛的树木生长在由死人滋润的土地上,这不是很奇妙的事情吗?死亡让生命有了意义。没有死亡,生命就毫无意义。其实,离死亡很近的时候,离生命也很近。”

她的语速缓慢,语气沉静,眼睛深邃,似乎藏有许多故事。我想,她不是一个故作深沉的无知女孩。

Padding三岁的时候,她被保姆虐待。七岁时,她被一个比她大五岁的女孩性骚扰。也是在七岁的时候,她祖父去世,她第一次看到父亲哭泣,很困惑。但从那时候起,她开始对死亡充满好奇。

她十二岁那年,她意外被小刀划伤。血和伤口的癒合过程让她觉得不可思议。几个月后,她带着好奇心和对自己的仇恨用刀子刮伤自己的手臂。不久,她对疼痛痴迷起来。疼痛变成她的心理释放。内心的痛似乎可以通过生理的痛得以流出体外。她经常不能遏制自己用刀子刮划自己的皮肤。她身上的刀疤,连她自己都数不清楚。她估计有120到150处。

她还刺穿身体的许多部位,并在刺穿处戴铁珠子。后来因为受不了世人不解的目光,她拆去了很多铁珠子。她认为这是对世俗的无奈妥协。而即便有所妥协,人们还是会对她身上的伤疤有诸多不公平的猜测,人认为她有精神病。

在大学一年级那年,Padding居然也被自己吓了一跳。她当时的男朋友自称是施虐狂,而把她定义为受虐狂。有一次做爱的时候,他用刀子刺入她的大腿,打开一道很深的口子。血涌出来,白色的肌肉显而易见。两人都吓坏了。从此不敢做太冒险的事情。到现在,她极力控制自己不再伤害自己的肉体。只有在极其苦闷并喝醉酒的时候,她才会用刀子划伤自己。所以,她也不怎么喝酒了。

但学艺术并对哲学感兴趣的Padding依然认为,拥抱疼痛,就是接近死亡,试图去理解死亡,从而理解生命。

I got news of death twice within a week. A good friend, Alan, lost his beloved mother last Wednesday. Then Rex lost his brother last Sunday.

I’ve never met Alan’s mother except from pictures. But Alan told me many stories about his parents, and he even suggested that I pretend to be his girlfriend so his mother would be pleased. “She’d ask when we would get married,” he once said and we were both amused by the idea. Now that she passed away suddenly, I deeply regret that I didn’t get to meet this extraordinary woman. When I read Alan’s email that showed his deep love and respect for his mother, I couldn’t hold my tears.

Only four days later, Rex called to tell me his brother passed away, his voice choked. It caught me by shock and I wanted to cry. I cannot stop thinking of his mother. Nothing can be more tragic than a parent burying his/her children. This is the second time she buried her son. I wish I had magic power to change this sad reality, but I only feel helpless.

Two lives gone within a week’s time make me think and feel. I often found myself sitting in the couch, lost in thinking. At night, strange dreams came to me. The night before, I dreamed that flesh was cut off my arms. I looked at my arms. They looked like anatomy pictures without muscles. In the same dream, a figure without a face appeared. He didn’t have any muscles in his arms, either. He said, “the flesh was cut off so that new muscles would grow.”

I wonder if this dream implies that life and death are closely intertwined. It reminds me of Rachel Padding, who believes it is death that gives meanings to life.

Last month, Padding invited me to meet her at a historic cemetery in Hagerstown, MD. She walked past a line of tombs towards me. There was something contradictory in her body movement. She was elegant, confident, lonely and slightly awkward at the same time.

“Why cemetery?” I asked Padding, as we sat by a tombstone under a big tree.

“This is a beautiful place. Look at these trees and grass. They grow in the soil enriched by dead bodies. It shows how close life is to death, or death to life. I always believe death gives meaning to life. When you are close to death, you are also close to life.”

Her voice is low and confident, her eyes deep, full of stories. I knew she was not a young woman pretending to be deep.

When Padding was only three, she was physically abused by her baby sitter. When seven, she was sexually abused by a girl only five years older than she was. The same year, her grandpa passed away and she saw her father cry for the first time, deeply bothered and bewilthered . From then on, she became very curious about death.

When twelve, she cut herself by accident with a knife. The healing process fascinated her. About three months later, she cut herself again. Not an accident this time. She did it out of curiosity. Then she cut herself out of self-hatred. Not long after, she discovered that physical pain could actually channel out other kinds of pain. It had become something spiritual. It is a bridge between life and death. Besides, cutting herself produces endorphin that soothes her mind while exciting her nerves at the same time.

For years, it was hard for her not to cut herself. She has between 120 and 150 cuts in her body. When a freshman in college, she met a man who defined himself as masochist and categorized her as a sadist. He once cut her deep in the thigh. Blood gushed out like a stream and white flesh was exposed to their shocked eyes.  They were stunned and scared. From then on, they were careful not hurt themselves too much.

She also had piercings. Tired of being stared at on the streets, she made a compromise and kept only about twenty piercings now. But people still stare at her scars.

The compromise is also her efforts to find other ways to understand and love herself. Now she rarely cuts herself. She would only do it when drunk and extremely upset. She makes great efforts not to drink.  However, she still believes embracing pain is a way to get close to and understand death, which is also a way to understand life.

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