Blood was everywhere.
The road had turned my brother’s face into a mask of red wetness, ugly splits and tears in the meat that went bone-deep.
“Hey, bud, I need you to look at me and stay awake,” Matthias was saying, as we laid Joe out on the table in the makeshift medical bay we had rapidly set up.
He looked bad.
He looked like he might die.
20th century Japanese writer Yukio Mishima has a famous line written in his book “Runaway Horses:”
“Perfect purity is possible if you turn your life into a line of poetry written with a splash of blood.”
His works, and his personal life, were filled with a driving desire to meet death poetically, to die a good death rather than succumbing to old age or the anti-aesthetic ugliness of some kind of illness.
Mishima, always a controversial figure for many reasons- from his sexual orientation to his nationalism and Imperialism- ultimately got his wish:
On the 25th of November, 1970, he and a few comrades from the militia he had created, entered a military base in Tokyo, then took the commander hostage.
Mishima made an impassioned speech to the troops stationed there, exhorting them to cast off the newer 1947 Japanese constitution, which was the work of foreigners (mainly Americans) and occupying forces, and to return to traditional Japanese values and codes of living, including restoring the power of the emperor.
After this failed to make the impression he’d hoped for, Yukio Mishima went back inside the commander’s office, apologized to him, and committed seppuku, the ritualized suicide of the samurai.
Speculation that this entire ordeal was a pretense in order to commit the ritual suicide he’d been obsessed with is inconsequential, regardless of its truth or falsehood.
Mishima wanted to die poetically, in line with Yamato-damashii, the spirit and essence of the Japanese people.
He was a great success in life, thought by many to be the most important author of post-war Japan, and had been considered for the Nobel prize.
He was physically fit, and had undergone training with weights, and traditional Japanese sword fighting.
His very existence was about an ideal- an aesthetic- and one he intended to maintain in death and beyond.
These ideas, and the line regarding “perfect purity” above have always fascinated me.
In another Japanese classic, Hagakure, Tsunemoto says:
“The Way of the Samurai is found in death.
When it comes to either/or, there is only the quick choice of death.
It is not particularly difficult. Be determined and advance.
To say that dying without reaching one’s aim is to die a dog’s death is the frivolous way of sophisticates.
When pressed with the choice of life or death, it is not necessary to gain one’s aim.”
This quote should be understood in context- Tsunemoto is saying that one who has lived the code of the Samurai with his life, who has made it his entire being, does not need to worry about “reaching his goals,” before death.
He has already attained them by living the code.
He can die at any time, and his death will be a good one, an honorable one, because he has made his life “a line of poetry written with a splash of blood.”
A few moments before the scene that opened this article, I was standing around a fire in Colorado, on the site of another major project my organization, the Wolves, have undertaken.
A second large longhall structure is being erected in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains, and we stood looking out at those giants as the fire flickered and the last bit of sun had just disappeared behind them.
We passed around a strong drink and discussed these ideas of a good life and a good death, and what it meant for the men and women of our tribal structure to live for an ideal.
Those there agreed that as long as one’s life was being lived to the hilt for what that person truly believes in, following our way of living with their whole heart and being- any death that finds you in that state of honorable, vital existence, is a good death.
We are men of action- often dangerous action.
Our lives are ones that have been inspired by the gods and heroes of time long past, brought forward into the now.
Given the choice between prolonging life or the opportunity of a good death and being remembered as a concept of living fire, I like to believe I would choose the latter.
And yet, in order to achieve this state, to come to this place where we can be indifferent to death itself, we must attain this perfect purity that Mishima talks about.
Our lives must become a line of poetry written with a splash of blood.
These words to me mean focus, vitality, passion. It means to be honed to a razor’s edge, not scattered, dull, and uninspired.
It means to have chosen something greater than oneself to aspire to, something higher to live, and ultimately, to die for.
My brother in the Wolves, Joe, is a man like this.
He is someone larger than life- before I ever met him, I had heard stories about him from other men that I respected.
The stories outlined a life of extremes- some good, some harsh lessons that had to be learned the hard way, from years in prison, and re-earning his way back into the life of honor that he lives now as a family man, and a brother in our organization.
He is a mountain man, and a hunter, an individual with rough hands and rougher experience- the tales that have been shared about him around our fires could fill a book on their own.
He has not slipped into that place that so many men who pass their youth and into their middle years do, a place of endless looking back and remembering what one once did or was capable of- rather, he has become more.
More capable. More of a man. More of a legend, in my eyes, and the eyes of those who matter to him.
He lives in a perpetual state of action and adventurous spirit- a spirit that I have little doubt will take him close to the grave many more times before it finally becomes *the* time.
His entire life has been written in blood and fire.
As we sprinted to recover his body and bike from the side of the road, and consciousness slowly returned to him, I was still unsure of his fate.
A high side crash, helmetless, is no small thing, and there are no certainties about that kind of damage.
I stood there looking at my brother leaking his life’s blood, the droplets spattering and streaming to the table, the floor, my hands.
So many would see this scene, I knew, and think “what a waste,” if he had passed away into the hills of his fathers that night.
Their minds would be filled with the idea of prolonging life, of what he would leave behind- of small things of concern to smaller men than him.
They would have difficulty comprehending the idea of dying as you lived- with a certain scornful disdain for death itself and the fear with which so many men hold that concept in their mind.
We repaired him with the aid of a few medical professionals in our ranks to the best of our abilities out there in the countryside, a long way from any hospital.
Through the entire ordeal, all I felt was calm.
And, although my brother did not die that night, when I looked at my hands later, at those splashes of deep red blood… all I saw was poetry.
Poetry and perfect purity.