Two Funerals and a Cup
As I write this, little flies are bouncing off the glass door next to me, frantic to get out of here and away to something else, anything, else. They seem to be the same as the ones that were frantic to get in earlier, though, since they are flies, it’s difficult to be sure.
I’d like the power to dip them in amber to make them live forever and, maybe, make them be a little less anxious about what they are missing as they ram their little heads into the wall. I’d like the power to read them – to unzip their DNA in real time, to play them back in reverse until I understood what motivated and drove them, to gain a little fucking perspective. The only thing I can see now is that they eat shit and make more flies -- and I wonder if that’s the point, and if it is, why?
We are not movies, but we might as well be for all the acting we do living and dying from scripted cause and effect. And maybe it is all written and we are just playing out a strange combination of strings and boxes – and that life is just complex algorithms straightjacketed to physical laws that we play out like a meat DVD in a machine the size of a universe.
Because it’s becoming clear to me that free will is not about the choices you make, and your life, in the end, is only measured in the finite things you have done, not by your dreams or ambitions -- and when they bury you it’s with slide shows and spoken soft memories said out loud by people who only know the part you played in their lives. You are the stains you leave on others by rubbing next to them over time, you are the marks and scars you’ve left without thinking as you stumbled home drunk in the fog of what you thought you were. You are the sum of memories left in hearts and carved on walls, you are what you have left in others to hold of you through acts of laziness or purpose. You are what they take from your actions, not what you choose to give them from your dreams.
On Wednesday, I went to the funeral of my adopted sons mother. On Friday, I went to the funeral of a friend’s friend.
Ricky’s mom was not someone I ever really knew, though as Ricky said, if I knew him, I knew her. I think he was right and when he said it and in a way I did see her through him, but not in the way he thought or meant. I did not so much see her as I saw the influence of her -- I saw the shapes she had left and the curves she had molded in him. I saw softness, love and decency -- all things that he had to start with, but as he stood and talked to me of her I could see that some of these things came to him as a gift – that they were add-ons of depth that had come from, and been reinforced by, the way she had touched him as he was growing up.
The other funeral was for Martin’s dad – a friend of a friend for the most part, though I’ve been with Martin a few times and genuinely like him. Martin lived with his Dad, who was my age, and found him dead one morning for no obvious reason. The funeral was one of sadness and loss – lots of friends and family talking about fairly outrageous things his Dad (Gary) had done over the years. The impression I got was a man of many strong traits – both good and bad, and a father who lived for his kids. The slide show at the end of the reception was heart breaking – a summing up of a life lived loudly and with humor and the juxtaposition of being alive in a picture and being dead on a table was stark and dramatic. When I left I told Martin that I was very sorry for his loss, and meant it in a profound way.
Both funerals started in funeral homes with religion. Both quoted platitudes from the 2nd Corinthians – that sales pitch section of the New Testament. Evidentially we all come from God and then go back to sit next to him when we die – presumably to talk about the lessons we learned and to trade stories with Jesus over drinks at a choice table shaded from the harsh brightness of light by a spiritual umbrella that’s provided by the management as one of many courtesies. I suppose it’s comforting to know this stuff, but find that getting comfort through willed ignorance is like thinking you actually get free money every April from the IRS, or slamming morphine to feel better about a broken relationship.
I’m not big on religion, but do agree that we come from something and go to something – I suppose it’s just the details that I disagree on, but cringe at the supposition that they have certainty when I have only best guesses. There’s nothing wrong with using the crutch of religion, but I don’t want to be beat with the absolutes of it when I’m sure they have less of a clue about things than I do. I don’t know what’s going on, but I’m pretty sure they don’t either – and black and white thinking is the refuge of idiots seeking shelter instead of understanding.
Religion is the cup referred to in the title of this essay, by the way -- in case my allusions are less than clear.
It’s tough to go to funerals of people you don’t know – it gives too much time to think selfishly. Not involved and emotional, and having no stake in the proceedings, it’s tough to connect to the person being remembered in other than an abstract way. It’s not tough to feel the pain and sorrow, but it’s tough not to but yourself in the place of the person being remembered and not think of yourself in their place. It’s tough not to think of your own inevitable death. It’s just tough.