Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Dash

Today, as I was driving home from work I passed the town cemetery. Yesterday was my 33rd birthday and I have found myself thinking about the whole life thing today. I'm not sure why, maybe that's what happens when a guy like me hits the big three-three. When I turned 30, no big deal. 31 kind of knocked me for a loop for some reason, but not 32. Maybe I have mini-just-past-quarter-life-crisises everyother year. Too bad I don't have a couple hundred thousand dollars laying around-- I'd be rollin in a cherry red Corvette tomorrow. I'm kidding, I'm kidding... I think.

Back to the cemetery. The town cemetary is a big one. I'm not sure how many acres, but its a good sized plot of ground. It is your typical town cemetery. On the biggest hill, right by the road, under some big, stately pine trees is the Vietnam dead. In the older part, behind some old, white washed cannon lay the WWI vets. The WWII vets are somewhere, but I'm not sure they have their own section.

Its a bit creepy to drive by the cemetery at night. Many of the gravestones have small flickering eternal lights that glow white. It is particularly eerie on a very clear and cold night-- yeah, its been very creepy the last few weeks.

There is still snow on the ground, but it has started to melt somewhat, finally, so now there are islands of brown grass showing through the quickly receeding snow. Pretty soon the tables will be turned and the snow will turn into the islands.

For some reason, as I drove by that cemetery this afternoon I was struck by a feeling of peace. It just looked so peaceful over there. I think its because of a conversation I had with a customer at the bookstore a few weeks ago, its a conversation that I have been mulling over recently, that made experience that peaceful feeling.

This woman came up to me at the store and asked for books about immortality. There were two that she was particularly interested in. I can't, for the life of me, remember what they were titled, but we had them. As we were walking to the section I jokingly said I had no desire to be immortal. She was a bit taken aback. She didn't understand why I'd say something like that; she wasn't offended, but abit surprised. I had tried to be funny about it, but the more we talked the more adament I became about not wanting to be immortal. It got to the point that I felt like saying, "shoot, I'm willing to go right now!" But that thought was quickly nipped in the bud because its not quite right, either.

After she left I started to think about the whole death and life thing. It kind of receeded into the background of mental noise I have clanging about in my brainpan for a few weeks until yesterday and today, yesterday being the day another year flips over in my life, and today being the cemetery day, so to speak.

I came to a couple decisions about death that feel really good in my heart. The first is simply this: I don't fear death. My parents were instrumental in this fact. They raised me in the Christian faith. A Christian Faith that tells me that I will be in Heaven when I die and enjoy eternal life because of my faith and belief in Jesus Christ. Another reason why I don't fear death is that I have scene it up close. I don't mean I've seen murder committed or anything like that, but I have had the opportunity to see the whole process of death. By process I don't mean actually watching someone die, i.e. a sick person finally succomming.

When I was small, right after my paternal grandfather died, my parents took me to a funderal home on Long Island. My father talked to the funeral director and we were allowed to go into a viewing room. I remember the man I saw. He was an older gentleman, he white hair, he was wearing a lightish blue suit, white shirt and tie. He had been a veteran because the triangled flag was inside his coffin. He lay there looking peaceful. My parents took me there so that I could see what a dead body looked like. My grandfather's wish was that I not come to the funeral or see him in his coffin, my parents honored that wish, but they felt it was important that I see what a dead body looked like. The man looked like he was sleeping in a cushy box. It wasn't scary in the least.

A few years later we moved to a rural area in Maryland. There was a farmer across the street who had dairy cattle. Sometimes a cow would die and he would dispose of the body by dragging it to a ravine in some nearby woods. I would take what I called "field trips" and see how the cow was decomposing. It probably sounds sick, but I wasn't going with that mind set. I was going for the simple biological curiosity. Again, it wasn't scary, I was able to see how nature cleaned itself up: From dust to dust.

I have thought about death in relation to me. I know that someday I will die. I know that some day my parents will die. Its part of life. A phrase I heard one time: "Birth, its terminal." I had to laugh when I heard that.

Another thing I decided was I really don't want to be immortal. Last week, on NPR, I heard about these folks who are bound and deteremined to find medicines that will keep them alive for a very long time and they are convinced that they will find them and they will live for hundreds of years, like we read about in the Old Testement. I have no desire to live 900 years. Really, I don't. I'll be happy with my 75 or whatever I am given. I don't want 900. I'm not even sure I want a 100.

So, I'm living my dash, that is the dash between birth and death. Someone once said to me whe they had a birthday they smiled a little because they lived through "death day" for another year. That was another thing that struck me as unshakably true.

I think I have a healthy attitude about death. I'm looking to die any time soon, but I'm not afraid of it. It will come and through my faith I'll be ready. And for that I am most thankful.


jillymae said...

man, i'm glad i wished you a Happy Early Birthday! preparing for my roomie's b'day today and my cousin's this friday, i woulda forgot ;)

hope it was a groovy one, man. hey, don't think too much, it'll wear you out :o)

thirdworstpoetinthegalaxy said...

"I don't want to achieve immortality through my work... I want to achieve it by not dying." - Woody Allen