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Volume 15, Issue 3: Flotsam

Death By Living

Nathan Wilson

I have a scar forming on my right calf. There is no glorious story behind it. A sharp piece of trim on the corner of a bench I was building. Its ambush came suddenly, and I was past it before I knew I'd been attacked. I looked back to see a portion of my leg left behind. The healing is not yet complete. I watch the slow birth of a scar. A mark on my body, one more small character detail that I will carry with me throughout the rest of my story. A mark that will be in attendance at my funeral, but first, hopefully, at the birth of grandchildren.

The tip of my left pinkie doesn't like to function. Somewhere back there it bore my weight incorrectly, and now believes that it has earned retirement.
A man stands on a rock weathered smooth by North Sea storms, and gives the slow breathing bay his eyes. He reads the sky and the wind, the tides pull at his bones. He looks at the sea, a master unacknowledged, sometimes overthrown. He is as weathered as the rock on which he stands. But he is not smooth.
There is another scar on my forearm. Football in eighth grade. Inglorious. Second grade tag above my right eye. Knife in my hand. Some football bleachers, gravel, and facemask on my wrist. Lacrosse on my hip. My grandfather, Japanese shrapnel on his leg. My sister has a pencil lead in her chin. My wife has Indonesian coral generally spread around limbs.
Some men refuse to live, refuse danger, trivial competition and risk. They refuse these things because they do not want to be damaged. They do not want to carry marks with them to the grave. They hold sons back with the same fear. They avoid the Resurrection. Conversations with it are awkward. Try not to look at it at parties. They want no notches on their swords, no arrow nicks on their shields. Especially not from practice.
The man has stood on this rock many years. His face is salted, his beard is white. Sun and wind have worn cracks in his skin. Every breeze wrapping his face has taken him closer to death. Every rope has moved his hands nearer the grave. Living will always kill you.
There is something very strange about feeding a table saw. The blade is hungry to cut, it does not care what. Your hands can find themselves on either side of mutilation as you carefully freehand plywood. You look at the blade and at your hand, only six inches away, or an inch. And you think, I wouldn't even feel it. The cut is finished. You kill the saw and fish for some sawdust in your eye, only you're using a finger coated with dust already.
My sister's husband lost finger tips in a mower and a shoulder in a rock chimney. A friend lost some digits in a joiner. I've ridden an extension ladder down from the eaves. Once. My father fell through an eleven-foot ceiling onto concrete. Third base has been rough on my legs this year. I've folded my feet the wrong way and jumped off my ankle bones. While playing. Reached behind a dryer and shook with the voltage. Two-twenty left my fingers numb and my free arm sore.
This old man has lived; though he has never seen Paris. He has not clutched after his life; he has not saved it for later. He has used it. For living. His body and the life in it have been used. They are his greatest tool. He keeps his life sharp, cutting nets with it, and fish, and toys for grandchildren. He will sharpen and use it, until there is no more blade. Like the cliffs his house sits on, he will lean against the ocean until he is pulled in. As his father was. As his son was. As his brothers were.
I have a new brother-in-law. One leg is shorter than the other because a bicycle pedal was pushed through it from behind by a speeding car.
Every ding and scrape takes us closer to our end. Every task, every tough job takes its toll. Life lived will break every one of us. Some sooner than others. Some never even start.
I watched my cousin Alexa buried. And my nephew Liam. I've seen friends lose fathers and sisters.
This old man is dead now. He is gone. No rock can withstand the constant beating of the ocean forever. He was battered until his blade would not sharpen, until there was no blade. I stare at his picture, with his heavy coat and his rough shaven face. His is a character full of details. Small scars, inside and out, lines etched onto his face by hard work, squinting, and laughing. When you look in this man's eyes, you look at his living. He is tattered, but his eyes have been worn smooth.
There is beauty in the resurrection. We will get new fingers, new legs, new bodies. Incorruptible tools. We must not be too upset when damaged. This body will be replaced. We have been given tools, we have been given lives in which to use them. Hopefully, ours will be used up.

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