When I decided to write about death, I walked 3 miles to sit under the shade of a Gingko to simply wonder what that word meant. It wasn’t long before the bright summer sun forced my eyes shut and my thoughts drifted here and there and after a while, the only thing I could be sure of was that death and life are inseparable in contemplations, in yearnings, and in the daily practicalities of living.
But when I began to ponder the subject in this way, which seemed unavoidable, I soon realized that it had one fatal drawback. I would never be able to conclude anything. I would never be able to deliver to you that nugget of pure truth to wrap up between the pages of your journal to keep on your bookshelf forever. All I could do was offer an opinion upon one point of death — all living things must die if they are to live and that, as you will see, leaves the nature of death and so life, unresolved.
To make amends I will tell you about my encounters with death over two days that led me to sit under this elegant tree where its pendulous branches too seemed bowed down by the struggles of living and the weight of the subject.
I’m under this Gingko because only the day before yesterday I learned of its remarkable ability to outwit death. Gingkoes it seems are the sole survivor of their phylum and can live for over 1000 human years. They have endured our planet's cataclysmic events unchanged for more than 200 million years — long enough to have shaded the dinosaurs and early humans. And now one shades me as I sit under its distinctive fan-shaped leaves lost in thought about mortality.
Ginkoes were also amongst a small number of trees to survive the nuclear holocaust in Hiroshima. In the spring of 1946, after the intense nuclear heat had seared off every leaf, scorched their fissured bark, and leached radiation into their sandy soil, the roots of 6 Gingkoes Biloba held, and as if holding hands in defiance, they blossomed. The Japanese call them Hibakujumoku — trees exposed to the atomic bomb. In 1945, it seems man attempted to take life that wasn’t ready to die and without his knowledge, the trees quietly struggled, incubated unseen life, and hurled it back into the world again.
Satisfied with the thought that life always wins, I try to relax further into the uneven trunk of the Gingko and my thoughts…