In the last two blog entries, I have discussed Robert Silverberg’s novella “Born with the Dead” in Phases of the Moon: Six Decades of Masterpieces by the SFWA Grand Master. Jorge’s wife Sybille has died and been rekindled. She lives in the abodes of the “deads” known as Cold Towns, and travels the world on research trips and pleasure jaunts. He tracks her movements as best he can, but is refused entry to Cold Towns, and her friends prevent him from meeting her when he flies off to wherever her travels have taken her. Finally, she has had enough. In Zanzibar, she and her friend learn that Jorge’s plane has landed. “We cannot allow this to go on, can we?” her friend asks her.
WARNING: Robert Silverberg’s stories breathe life into fantastic worlds populated by interesting characters. His prose is sublime, and rich with meaning. In sharing with you some aspects of the story, I hope to provide insights you can apply to your own life. However, this blog post will tell you how the story ends, and as discovering how a story ends is one of the great joys of reading, I would not rob you of that experience. (Such as: “Luke, I am your father!”) So, with that spoiler alert duly sounded, I shall proceed. Read further at your own peril.
Sybille and two of her fellow deads meet Jorge in the hotel bar. Over drinks, Jorge tries to convince Sybille to give him a few hours of conversation. He believes that in talking through his obsession, she can help him end it, and both of them can then go their own ways in the future. But it has been three years since Sybille died. It is painful for the “deads” to converse directly with the “warms.” Nor do Sybille and her friends believe that an hour or two of conversation would end Jorge’s tireless, driving obsession.
So they plunge a self-defense dart into him and have him rekindled.
After a few weeks, Sybille and her friends meet Jorge in a Cold Town. He is getting acclimated to his new state of existence. He sees them as demigods, and now he is one of them. Yet as they discuss their future plans, he loses interest in them. He decides not to join their little circle of friendship. Freed of his former bonds, he has his own interests to pursue.
I can understand why some regard this ending as depressing. Yet great beauty exists in self-actualization. In crossing the gulf that separated them, Jorge realizes he never needed Sybille: that was a myth he created and perpetuated. In the past, I have related to this story in terms of the relationships with family and friends that have frayed or fractured. For our actions, and others’ actions, affect our ability to interrelate with each other. Eventually, our growth as individuals creates so much difference between us that the closeness we once shared no longer exists. While we must love others for the relationship that once meant so much to us, we must hold ourselves in readiness for whatever (or whomever) the future brings our way. Obsession over what we once had, but no longer exists, can only hold us back from all that life might have in store for us.
But, as I related in the previous blog, today I view the story through a different lens. Jorge had fixated upon the idea that a conversation with Sybille would enable him to deal with his life and the challenges that lay ahead for him. Like Jorge, I had clutched hold of my own myth: that in meeting my literary heroes at conventions, I would impress them with my worthiness. They would then welcome me into their company, and actively help me get published. Yet, just because we choose to believe something does not make it true. As Gracchus says to Jorge,
“I think you’re a fool. I think you’re a weakling, but I don’t dislike you, I don’t hold you to blame for your own foolishness.”
Today I resolve to make smart decisions, and pursue actions that will lead to publication.
How about you? What does Silverberg’s story say to you? How can you apply “Born with the Dead” to your life?
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