A Parallel Intelligence, And Wondering If It Stinks
Notes about funerals, weddings, suicide, Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment, O. J., cremation, embalming, and funeral pyres.
O this is going to cause me some grief, but funerals or weddings, they are all the same to me. We practice both customs in America because we always have. It is important to note that I hate both and avoid them each with a gusto unnatural to my leisurely ways. I mean I get feverish and break out into cold sweats in order to stay absent and uninvolved with these two ceremonies. But had I been raised in a different culture, say Russian or Polish instead of U. S. American, I suppose I would at least feel differently about attending a good wedding. They both, the Russian and Polish wedding celebrations, most likely because of the old movies I've seen, appear to be seriously robust and hearty affairs in which even the guests get to swing drunkenly and with good cheer with the bride on the dance floor and finish somehow approvingly with a reckless lip lock on her face. Now that's a wedding. And had I been raised a Hindu and suffered the procession of grief and the solemn circumstance of a funeral pyre the funeral tradition would hold for me a bit more importance and surely demand an exacting reverence totally lacking in the history of my American homogenized, or you-think-for-me, experience.
Ok, I get it. You get terminally sick, or murdered, or have a terrible accident and die, we have to bury you. I watched Wagon Train and Bonanza. I get the picture. Plenty of years and westerns later, the period war movie, the latest apocalypse, and this image gets even clearer, but still no easier for me to understand. The older I get the more in focus my impending death is. I have perceived people I know making deals and setting things straight with their personal conceptions of God, especially if they have contracted a terminal disease or have aged considerably. I find it disconcerting to see an otherwise good-time-Charlie suddenly attending adult Sunday School and sporting a new and heavily book-marked bible and encouraging me to do the same. I have made plenty of deals with God in my checkered past, but I feel I have evolved enough to take myself on from here. There is no doubt that death will take me on, and win, but it is I myself who needs to deal directly with my own mortality and not have some preconceived misconception of an anthropomorphic god who will somehow save me from it and is keeping a cozy-quilted place for me up in some mythical cloud base, provided I am worthy, for when my time on planet Earth is over.
My wife and I don't just sit around the apartment here all day discussing our personal deaths and deciding what to do about them, but we probably should. Fact is, we have barely spoken about it. We do talk about the manner in which some of us die and how silly it sometimes seems. Mind you we don't think everybody is silly, but for personal entertainment we make fun of some of them privately. You go through all this death march and rattle with people and then have to face burial procedures and societal customs that seem to be a little on the strange side. It is interesting how the human condition deals with something none of us is going to escape; that being our own dying and subsequent dispersal of our rotting flesh.
The one type of adult death that bothers me the most is suicide. I have studied suicide quite extensively and don't have any better answers today than when I began my study years ago. When I look at what we do with the dead mass afterward I get even more confused. To me these two things, suicide and burial, are parallel and yet still somehow connected.
Note there is little problem for me understanding a situation where there can be no repair or coping with a hopeless and final situation. When a person becomes so desperate, or in so much pain, suicide can be the answer to finally stopping something that can never be rectified. I do not shudder at the consequences. But I do not understand offing yourself if there is some kind of reasonable hope, unless you just can't find any way to have a good time. I suppose you would call that a clinical depression and I am not equipped to handle that concept mentally or emotionally. It is my understanding that David Foster Wallace was in that boat. I have been obsessed with this man ever since I read his commencement speech to the 2005 graduates of Kenyon College, even though I confess I hadn't read any of his work until after he had already died.
Yesterday afternoon we attended a play at Actor's theater of Louisville titled, Crime and Punishment based on the Dostoevsky novel by the same name. It was a sparse production and lent itself more amply to the seriousness of the subject matter. Sometimes less is more. But I offer up this Saturday afternoon excursion in search of some art as another means at getting to what I am trying to say. The main character Raskolnikov made mention during the investigation of the grizzly murders, these same acts committed with an axe, the killing of the old pawn broker and her innocent sister that, had he committed the crime and was faced with his own execution say within one week, he would rather trade that death sentence for a thousand years of standing erect in excruciating discomfort on a small ledge above the cliffs with the raging sea below him. Reminds me of a discussion I had once with Gordon Lish over the question of choosing to either die slowly in a sunken submarine or go down swiftly to your death in a jet airplane. I immediately chose the airplane and voiced my wish that I hoped I would at least die with some dignity, perhaps riding the plane down with arms outstretched, gleefully screaming as if I were riding on a twisting and speeding roller coaster (which by the way is another thing I abhor). Gordon chose to die in the submarine for the simple reason he would live longer, regardless of the suffering involved in slow suffocation, for Gordon, being alive as long as possible the only thing that truly mattered to him.
But the play disheartened me by its not casual reference continually to the possibility that God somehow may be accessibly needed in order to possess some fulfilled closure on a common human need such as forgiveness for having done a terrible wrong. My premise has always been that we are a forgiving people when somebody comes clean and expresses his guilt and honest remorse and wishes to make amends with a change in his behavior. Human beings tend to forgive each other and understand their condition as we all have it, but still not forgive the crime. And the remorseful criminal is undoubtedly aware he committed the heinous act that put him behind these bars. Forgiveness and understanding of the human condition is not a Christian concept, it is simply a human one, and something good people inherently have inside them. So for Sonya to suggest at the end of the play to Raskolnikov that he just might need God in the end in order to become the Lazarus the inspector Petrovich suggested he could be, made me feel betrayed after having spent an hour and fifteen minutes with them all as they attempted to air the novel out. The least of all the themes in this great novel is redemption, and to make redemption more important than all the others such as alienation, the psychology of crime, the idea of superman, nihilism, and poverty, and to also suggest it is a Christian theme, even though Dostoevsky struggled with the very same, is to make the play cast and cornered in a box instead of maintaining its place as the timeless and all-encompassing creation of art it has proven to be.
But one other concept the play expressed was that intelligent people have a harder time living with themselves after committing a heinous crime. It made me wonder about O. J. Simpson and how easily the black ex-athlete seemed to live with himself after doing his awful deed against the beautiful Caucasian wife and her white companion. My own wife made a point to remind me of the celebration and dancing in the streets the African-American community displayed after the original not-guilty verdict. I remember thinking to myself these people cannot be serious. That they must not have watched the same trial as I did. My wife pointed out to me that African-Americans were most likely celebrating because one of their own beat the system with money just like rich white people have been doing for decades. But I thought about intelligence and how I guess it just might be easier for a dumb person like O. J. to deny his guilt and service an opinion of himself that was beyond the pale. I am still not sure what I truly think about this concept at play between guilt and intelligence.
But what I do know is if I have to die I want to die in my sleep after a long and happy life. And if that is not possible I hope to have the courage and the right to make an alternative choice for myself depending on circumstances unique to me. And after I am no longer living, embalming is out for me as well as commercial-style cremation. It is my solemn wish to be either left alone in the woods to be eaten by wolves, birds, and worms, or rather consumed in a funeral pyre in the style of the Hindus. So I guess I'll need to move.
- Cremation by funeral pyre, now available in the USA Thefuneralsite's Weblog
- What Happens to Your Facebook Profile When You Die? - TIME
Facebook is quietly offering a fix to one of the social-networking service's most awkward loose ends -- what happens to user profiles after those people die
David Foster Wallace Kenyon College Speech
Ganges River - Cremation (Funeral Pyre)
Historic Cemetery in Apalachicola, Florida
All text and photographs Copyright 2010 by M Sarki
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M Sarki was born in East Tawas, Michigan in 1953. Besides being a poet with four collections published, Sarki is a painter and photographer. He...