The Crystal Structure

Essays Introduction

Decisions Using Intuition & Creativity


No Left-out People

As If

The Crystal Structure

On Leadership

The Myth of Success

Doers & Creators

I, Committee
Thinking about the deaths of my mother and my father has given me some views of life and accomplishment - and maybe some insight into human behavior. Sometimes thinking about death helps to focus on life.

In the hospital there is a scene that my sister and I played twice, and is experienced by many families. We sat by the bedside during the last hours of our parents' lives. There is a point when the breathing stops, and some time later a medical person announces that the heart has stopped. The death certificate will declare that to be the time of death.

It isn't. From C.P.R. training we know that if the heart can be re-started in three minutes, not only does the person live, but there is no brain damage. Death, real death, is the irreversible slide from a person with a brain filled with a life's memories to a decaying corpse.

As I have thought of that time with my Mother, I have often thought of that collapse of life. While my Father, my sister and I hovered around the bed in helpless sorrow, this terrible process was happening. Although it looked like all was calm - after hours that my Mother had fought to bring oxygen into lungs that could no longer support her body * - the destruction was taking place.

I imagined the lifetime of memories, the habits formed as a child and shaped by experience, her special way of speaking, her vocabulary, her handwriting, her fears, her victories, her complete knowledge of me, her love - all of it, I imagined as a great shining crystal structure. She had spent her whole life building it. Sometimes she would change a part, or something would vanish with forgetfulness, and every day some new facets would be added, or old ones polished or re-arranged.

In death, as the brain is starved of oxygen rich blood, the structure begins to crumble. It was the horror of knowing that that stabbed me with grief at my mother's bedside.

My Mother made an observation at the time of her Father's death. Grandfather died at home in his bed with Mom and my Grandmother in attendance. Mom said that the house was not the same after he died. My Father died 15 months after my Mother. Within a day of Father's death, the will was read and my sister and I had begun the business of dividing the possessions and selling the house. A week later I drove a truckload away from my family home (on Ballantyne Avenue in Montreal West), never to return. I first arrived in that house 16 days after I was born.

The process of living seems to be that of creating two structures. One is the view of the world which we create in our mind. Every move we make, every utterance, every gesture, every decision is a consequence of that structure. Sometimes the structure is deliberately shaped by a process of planned learning. Much of the structure is shaped by childhood, and some of it was there at birth.

The second structure we create in the world-external. This includes our network of people who know, love and fear us. It also includes our possessions. This external structure is subject to more deliberate and drastic changes than the internal one. I have known people who amass a large external structure which includes money, a house(s), heirlooms, vehicles, a large number of acquaintances, influence, family, business(es), and other possessions.

These two structures require a lifetime to build, and the energy of life to sustain them. It is shocking how rapidly both structures crumble within moments and hours of death. One of the ways to think of a human is in terms of that energy. We do not see the energy, but we can glimpse the evidence of the internal structure in every action a person takes. The external structure is somewhat easier to quantify.

So, there are nearly six billion bubbles of energy, building and changing their structures. Each dies, and immediately that person's structure dissolves.

Something does remain. Each person touches other people. Each alters the structure of some or many people. There is, therefore, the structure of all of us. I see some of it when I look out my window at the city. I need to escape human structure, from time to time, in order to recognize human structures from those of the rest of nature.

The image of the connection between an individual's structure, and that of the community seems important, but in my mind, it is undeveloped. I think that the source of the collective energy (or who is responsible for it) may be important in this context. Some constructive reasons for pursuing this line of thinking may be to find ways to allow old and useless practices / customs / institutions to 'die' by recognizing that they are blocking new and perhaps better structures, and then to withdraw the energy that sustains them.

It raises the question, is humankind served by death? At the moment I choose to see death as a disease to be overcome. That is a choice, not an observation.

It occurs to me that a reader with a fanciful imagination may assume that I have put a new label on the term 'soul' when I have referred to the sustaining energy. This would presuppose that I assume that there is some intelligence associated with the energy. I do not. I see both structures as being real. The internal structure is in the form of mental firmware and software, and it is real in the same sense that a program in a computer is real. The external structure can be quantified, and is obviously real. The energy is that which is produced from those processes that sustain life, using food and oxygen.

I would be interested to receive any comments you may wish to contribute. Please send me a note to


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© 1994 November, Robert J. Ballantyne
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* My Mother died of emphysema. If anyone, who is considering taking up the art of smoking, would like to know exactly what the end will be like, I would be pleased to provide a detailed description.