Life And Death
( Originally Published Ealry 1900's )
WHAT do you mean by dying? What is this thing named death? What becomes of the body when it is buried; of the flower when it falls; of the plant when it has done its work? Walk through the forest in the autumn; the dry leaves rustle under foot and we call them dead leaves. Could we watch these same leaves from year to year we should find that in time they disappear. Where are they? They are fluttering, green and full of sap, in their old places on the trees; they are breaking out into the white bloom of the wild plum; they are throbbing in the heart of the wood-pigeon, and painting the sky with sunset colors.
When the leaves fell it seemed a misfortune, and those who used concerning them the dread word death did not know that they had but completed one beautiful form of life, and become free to enter into another. The carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, and other elements that had been so long bound into plant protoplasm let go, each one, its hold upon its neighbor, the old bond was dissolved, the freed elements eagerly formed new combinations. Our leaf is now a quantity of water, ammonia, different forms of lime, magnesia, potash, soda, acids of various kinds, and combinations of iron, as well as many other sub-stances. Behold our leaf returned to the mineral king-dom. Though not wholly. Certain of its elements enter at once into lowly forms of vegetable life, which are lying ready to seize upon them and develop waiting spores into growing life ; and still others find their way at once into the animal life.
The leaf now finds itself in a myriad of forms, and distributes itself through life. The ammonia, the ashes, sink into the ground, and are wooed by the rootlets of the forest trees to ascend through the branches and unite with the living tissue in the buds to form next year's leaves. The rootlets of the wild grape eagerly seek the aid of these wandering leaf elements, that its branches may be clothed with verdure; the wild rose would have a share ; the burdock, too, and the wood anemone wish to attract them; the birds and the insects appropriate the fruit they have gone to form; their vapor, rising through the air and condensing into clouds, adorns the blue sky and reflects the sunset hues.
And yet men talk of dead leaves, —call them dead be-cause they would leave a stiff triangle of wood fibre and green tissue to mingle with the universe !
Thus, too, with the bird. One day it lies down and rises no more, and men would have us believe it is dead. The spirit that bound its countless cells into one harmonious whole has loosed the bond; the bird's body— its immortal body—is now free to enter other forms of life. Like the cells of the fallen leaf, the cells of the fallen bird dissolve, — they free the elements which formed them; and these elements, quite unchanged by their long captivity, joyously greet the change, enter into new and delightful combinations, and to ! our whilom bird is now a lovely bit of vegetable life, —the same atoms of car-bon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, and sulphur which formed his protoplasm being happily united into the new protoplasm of the plant. Every atom of the pretty bird's body is somewhere in Nature, active as ever, —helping the flowers to bloom, the birds to sing, the bees to store up honey, the deer to run, and the little mouse to hide.
We thus see that when a body dies it is not destroyed, it but changes its form. Its countless cells, composed of the elements gathered from the air and from food, are now about to give up those elements, but not the smallest atom can be lost. Each one will be but freed to seek a new life according to its surroundings and its nature.
The all-powerful principle of life but rearranges its cells to express life in other ways. The spirit, having clothed itself in a finite form, which for a time it wore, has at length restored that form to the elements from which, cell by cell, it called it forth. The spirit, no longer needing the cell-built body, releases it, and the body finds its place in a new form of life.
The immortal spirit, free from the cell-built body, clothes itself in what unknown glory !
The immortal body, free from the controlling spirit which held it in a definite form, is shaped into what forms of wonder and beauty !
"Full fathom five thy father lies;