By Rob Lewis
I am lying on sunlit bricks before the Henry M. Jackson Federal Building. I have died, and now look up at a twisted rectangle of sky framed by glass-sided buildings. A single branch waves overhead, reaching from a tree rising from a square of trucked-in soil. About twenty people have also died around me, and lay in the positions they fell in. We will stay dead for about twelve minutes.
That’s how many years we have to prevent climate hell on earth, at least according to the last fleet of studies. Twelve years is not a lot of time. Perhaps I should have better things to do with mine. But then I realize, arms splayed out, looking slantwise up at the diamond-pointed sun, I’m doing precisely the thing I should be doing and want to be doing. I am dying into the truth of my time. I am dying into the dying. And it feels strangely restorative
The sea is near. I can smell it. And I begin thinking of orcas, in particular, one named Tahlequah. Last August, with her dead calf draped across her nostrum, she heralded her calf through the sea for seventeen days and nights? She made us look. She made us see what life is like behind the word extinction. It’s hunger, loss, attrition. Extinction lowered its mask of data and revealed a broken-hearted mother, grieving on a scale beyond our ken, a grief as big as the ocean. I am thinking I am lucky to be able to lie here and grieve for her, and for all of creation, really. I am thinking of how long I have needed to do this.
Those who can’t lie down join in standing-death. I can’t see anyone though, just this strange, powder-blue fragment of sky. On this chilly April morning the bricks are surprisingly warm, laying a deep bed of deep quiet amidst the clanging jack-hammers, staccato horns, rhythmic sirens. The city thrums on and I realize we are the lucky ones. We at least have found an off-ramp, a brief side exit from the techno-industrial race to ruin.
Though we appear to be sleeping, we are actually waking. We are shaking off an industrial drowse, grieving for a distracted humanity. There’s a feeling of honour to it, a solemnity. This is necessary work. It helps that the sun warms our faces. It helps that we decided to just do this, as awkward as it might have felt at first.
And now here we are, dying into something beyond ourselves, into orcas, snow geese, yellow tanagers, glacier-fed streams, snow-fed glaciers, salmon and seasons. Climate refugees, hurricane victims; we die for them too. By our bodies we have cleared and planted a small plot of human atonement, and inhabit it with a mood akin to prayer. A cloud’s view would see a city swirling around a spot of stillness. Is it a wound or a flower?
It is surely both.