Life, Death and Passage

Reading time : 4 minutes

Every Saturday, ONFR+ offers a column on Franco-Ontarian news and culture. This week, place for literature with the author Monia Mazigh.


During my visit to the Sudbury book fair last May, I had the chance to listen to Marie-Thé Morin read her New Sudbury Tale aloud in the great hall of Place des Arts. I remember laughing a lot. And yet his tale was about death and death. Can we really laugh at death and the dead? Or should we ask the question: what is death really?

Marie-Thé Morin, novelist, playwright and certainly talented storyteller, explores this frightening theme for some or taboo for others with a lot of humor and imagination. She tells us the story of a “living” person who has the ability to “see” the world of the dead.

His fertile imagination takes us on an adventure where certain living beings, endowed with a supernatural power, is he really so, have the right to “look” over the dead. And the meeting of the two worlds is hilarious, at least for me, the listener.

In cinema and literature, the encounter between the world of the living and that of the dead is often the subject of horror stories with of course exceptions where the supernatural or magic takes over. Sitting in our living room or snuggled up in our movie theater seat, we often feel relieved to know that there is no spirit, medium, or ghost lurking near us, to tickle our toes or the back of our neck. What was my surprise to see that life and death are not new themes for Morin since, even in his novel Wanderings published in 2021, the author immerses us in these two worlds or rather keeps us in suspense not knowing which of the two worlds the characters come from.

Come to think of it, how can we speak of death today in a world that has physically and morally distanced everything that reminds us of death. Yet death lives among us every moment, every breath that does not end in exhalation. Faced with death, we are distraught, helpless, we do not have the right words, nor do we know the appropriate gestures, nor the stories to tell. We are more vulnerable than ever. We just have to remember that the pandemic is indeed living among us.

A few days ago, while consulting an old map of the old Medina of Tunis, my daughter and I observed how large the El Jellaz cemetery was on the outskirts of the old city. Like what the dead rub shoulders with the living, not in their alleys or in their shops but by greeting them at each entrance or each exit of the city. A smart way to say that we are still here and that if you forget us, we will remind you with our daily presence.

Today, this cemetery, which has become incapable of receiving all the dead despite its successive enlargements made by notching into the surrounding hills and cutting down the century-old eucalyptus trees, has become too far from the suburbs which stretch as far as the eye can see like a sheet of of oil in the sea. The old city has become a tiny speck, the new city has stretched in all directions to seek more space but also a way to escape the funereal and macabre vision of this cemetery and to look towards the beautiful office towers or the sumptuous cafes built on the artificial shores of Lake Tunis.

Death is put aside, we only think of life and the happiness we believe we can taste there. And yet in Wanderings, Morin is able to create meeting places between these two worlds that spy on each other. The creation of characters that navigate between these two worlds is brilliant, if not brilliant. Humor can serve as a vehicle but also imagination, stories and words.

In the Muslim tradition, there is a word for this “transitional” phase or this “passage” which connects the two worlds. It’s a bit strange word, of Persian origin, and frankly difficult to pronounce. Barzakh, which literally means barrier, partition or obstacle, is this place of passage. A place of separation between here and the Beyond. A place where the spirits once separated from their body can have another life while waiting for that of the Beyond.

And it is not for nothing that sometimes in our dreams we see dear people whom we have lost. According to this religious vision, our spirits which escape from our bodies, during our sleep, find themselves with those who are already dead and “live” in this passage called Barzakh.

I almost want to say that some of Morin’s characters came straight out of Barzakh and that in their quests or adventures, they try to make us flesh and blood humans understand things that escape us or that we stubbornly misunderstand, for example the meaning of life and of course that of death.

In Wanderings, the characters of the author seek each other both in life and in death. Their journey, literally and figuratively, is crucial. We all travel from one place to another to learn, to see those we love, but also we need to “travel” to understand, to evolve and to appreciate what we are experiencing.

Isn’t travel a small death? Someone did not rightly say “to leave is to die a little” and yet we persist in sanitizing our lives from the presence of death which we are all afraid of but which we must tame as Morin did in his New Sudbury Tales or else invent a way of reconciling life with death as she does in Wanderings.

Fortunately, we have the literature to explore these themes without fear or taboo. Certainly sometimes the jitters take over but never should we drop death and the dead. Without death, life would never be what it is.

The opinions expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of their authors and do not reflect the position of ONFR+ and Groupe Média TFO.

Life, Death and Passage – ONfr+