Pallor mortis is a paleness which sets in 15 to 120 minutes after death. Blood no longer flows to surface capillaries after the heart has stopped beating. Algor mortis is coldness which begins as soon as blood stops flowing. The body cools slowly until it is at ambient temperature, thermally indistinguishable from its surroundings. Once the body runs out of Adenosine Triphosphate, muscle fibers can no longer separate from each other and freeze in place in rigor mortis. A thing which once moved has become still. Lastly, in livor mortis, blood settles into the lower portions of the body, pooling and causing bruising.
At this point, the body begins a process of self digestion. As waste like CO2 builds up in cells, they eventually burst, spilling their contents out through the body. Division of outside and inside breaks apart. A simple fact is revealed: the only difference between a live body and a dead body is organization. Insides seep out and there is no more order to guide the body’s delicate chemical dances. Our internal goop is subject to the same frenzy of reaction as any other puddle of organic waste once it’s no longer internal. Chemical processes which were once important to our survival turn on our cells and instead of breathing life into them, now breed putrefaction and decay. Leaked enzymes from burst cells secrete sulfurous gasses that bloat and deform the body.
Alongside our own enzymes, the bacteria once constrained neatly to our gut break free and digest what they shouldn’t. This bacterial activity releases gasses that make the smell of a decaying body unmistakable. Despite calling our gut home for so long, these bacteria treat us the same way they treated our food. All they know is digestion. Without our body’s constraint and direction, we become the targets of their havoc.
As decomposition continues, fluids leak out from the body’s orifices. This marks the beginning of active decay. Tissues lose their arrangement. The bridges that hold together skin, muscle, and organs fall apart as the body’s internals liquefy. At the end of active decay, no soft tissue remains. Hair, bones, and cartilage are all that are left. The most tightly organized pieces. The most resistant to decay. And yet, they are still not immune to it.
All must return to the earth. Our specific configurations of dust cannot last forever. Insides are destined to come out, outsides will invariably seep in. It is only natural to fear this dissolution of ourselves, to fear impermanence. But let us revel in it instead. Let us revel in our unraveling. Become creatures of the edges, of the thin lines between in and out, creatures across boundaries and barriers. Some nights call us to new abandon and tumult. To cause chaos and mischief which bridges what was before separate, dissolves what was resolute. Joy and passion can be found in moments antithetical to our being. It takes a disorganization of the self, a letting go of the borders around us to pursue a radical acceptance of our outside world. To dissolve the mind is to expand it limitlessly. Realizing the body as a flow of material, a constant balance between in and out, we can see it as a machine for joy, an interface with the world rather than a special object separate from it.
Many of us live under the constant organization of school, work, family. When nights of wanton abandon present themselves to us, we must be ready to practice the art of decay. To dissolve past the delineations we are usually asked to adhere to. Feel the rigid shells we thought were our skin flake off from us. Cast away all that we can, become untethered and unbounded. The night air feels cool as it brushes against newly revealed flesh, raw and sensitive to the thrill of life. This pain can be sublime. Maybe it is in disorganization that we truly come alive. As our bodies fall apart to die, our souls must do so to live. We must be able to realize the absurdity of compartmentalization, the illogic of organization. That all distinction is illusory. We are all stuff, all reconfigurations and reorganizations with no clear delineations. Our world is one of fuzzy edges, of permeable boundaries. It is our life’s project to keep our distinctions clear, our insides in and our outsides out, but it is a beautiful inevitability that we fail.
Happy Halloween. May you capitalize on this night of dissolution and wonder.