It is a common misconception that during the witch trials in Salem, Massachusetts, that those deemed to be in league with Satan were burned at the stake. In fact, they were executed by hanging or, in the case of Giles Corey – a man who refused to declare his innocence or guilt – by having their chests crushed slowly as heavy stones were piled, one after another onto them like a wine press squeezes grapes until they burst, spilling fruit blood over stained earth.
The worst part of dying isn’t the anticipation. It isn’t packing your Saratoga trunk with your feathers and furs, waiting with ticket in hand for a journey to an unknown destination that could happen at any moment.
The worst part of dying isn’t the pain. As any suicidal or cancer-stricken individual will tell you, death signals the relief of pain, the promise of footprints that linger through landscapes of suffering finally being wiped away by a skeletal hand.
As Giles Corey discovered laying in a pit dug into an open field, the worst part of dying is realizing that in your last moments – despite your hatred for your executioners, despite your ridicule of a government that persecutes the powerless and protects the predator – that the universe is perfect…so perfect…and that you can only truly appreciate that perfection as agonal breathing hisses from your clenched teeth. The clack of stone on stone did not distract Corey from feeling the last of the season’s raspberries wizening in his pockets, the sunlight shining so hot on his skin that he could experience the individual drops of sweat careening between every pricked-up hair on his body, from hearing the sound of cows lowing in the distance, from smelling his neighbour’s laundry as it dried in a tart autumn breeze, and from remembering the crepe-y skin around his wife’s eyes that delicately wrinkled whenever she laughed. He saw past witch crazes, blighted crops, religious persecution, and mortal fear to honey sticking to the comb, fish swimming upstream through cold brooks, and to the planet subtly rotating on its axis.
Giles Corey did not die because a twisted legal system allowed so-called men of justice to stack boulders onto his chest until his ribcage snapped, sending bone splinters into the contracting pieces of meat that were his lungs. What finally caused his heart to stop quivering was his understanding of a truth that is only revealed to us when we enter that space where we know all but cannot say a single word, the great irony of Death itself: that even as our bodies are pressed into soil by rocks, even as our caskets are lowered into the ground, even as we dissolve into dust and sink further towards the earth’s core…
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This work, “Giles Corey” by Beth Murch, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.