Whenever someone attempts to talk about Life, the subject of Death inevitably enters the picture. For how can one discuss Life without referencing Death? And, it is safe to assume the two—Life and Death—share characteristics that force them into a perpetual dance with one another.
So while it is my intention here to discuss Death, I find I must first start the dialogue with a reference to Life—specifically Birth. And while I am reluctant to share personal experiences, I find it necessary to gloss over some history, so that I may go where I want to go, which, I might add, is a place unknown, even to me, at this point.
I crawled through the birth canal on a most inauspicious day—13th of Friday—at least to those who subscribe to superstitious notions. However, they may know something I don’t, since life has been anything but peachy.
Don’t know why I rushed to get here, but I pushed aside the physician’s prediction of my Estimated Time of Arrival, and—lucky for me, I suppose—was caught by the arms of my father, who was standing nearby.
And, as already mentioned, I became mostly stranded on this place here we call Earth for almost 4 decades, battling opposition to my left and right—even though I considered myself any but a warrior.
Sometimes—actually most of the time—I even fought while prone (which makes it incredibly difficult to determine exactly who the enemy might be) and the nature of my success was always a big and gaping hole, which I explored in detailed and meticulous fashion.
Strange and dark thoughts and experiences filled my early childhood—premonitions of my mother’s untimely death, visitation by a creature whose origin was undetermined— spooky!—and perhaps these things are what eventually led me to ask lots of questions…
And, in addition, prefer the company of adults to other children at a relatively young age.
Don’t know ‘bout you, but I place questions at the top of my list of important features about life. And while one never knows where a question might take them, the trip is usually worthwhile. For how would we ever learn anything, if not for the presence of questions?
And even though we may not particularly care for where our questions may take us, often revealing conflicts which lead to further questions and examination, they seem an essential ingredient of human development.
Furthermore, I firmly believe there is no such thing as a stupid question.
The very nature of questions do not require approval from outside sources. The very nature of questions only require that they be asked. And yet, not surprisingly, questions are often met with resistance, especially when they threaten to upset the comfort of our beliefs.
Look no further than educational settings, and you will find plenty of examples of how the Art of Questions is being mishandled and its value misappropriated. The rush to always be right has shoved aside the essence of exploration, which eventually leads us to discover what, in fact, is right and wrong.
And, thereby, not only is the nature of learning suppressed, reduced to a concept of a repository of information, deemed valuable and important to know, but the opportunity to engage in some creative thought is abandoned altogether.
There are exceptions, of course.
But overall we no longer seem to value human creativity, its development, in our educational systems, and rely instead on the storage of information deemed necessary to lead a productive life.
And, frankly, that’s lots of information to put in storage!
The overall value of testing massive populations is helpful, I suppose, in generating statistics on where a system is headed. But our heavy reliance on test scores does not always predict where an individual is headed. Indeed, test scores can often provide unreliable information, and be a poor indicator of overall potential and development.
Plus one must always consider the environment in which a test is administered.
A child who attends a school whose building sorely needs renovation and who is tested on a hot and humid day—say, 95 degrees, F—and possesses less supplies, such as technology, to enhance their educational development, will be affected and probably not perform as well as his or her peers from districts which are endowed with such basic creature and educational advantages.
I base this view on my brief experience as a tester, traveled to both ghetto, on the South side of Chicago, as well as neighborhoods North of there, where vast differences of available educational resources and environments, was—to put it mildly—striking.
Yet, we often base our evaluation of failure on test scores—which may or may not be actual predictors of success—and lock kids into arbitrary models of achievement—“the haves” and the “have…nots”—and delegate them to appropriate classroom settings.
Detours and Digressions
See what I mean? Once you start traveling you never know where you are headed. And that—for me, anyway—is highly appealing!
Death has been a preoccupation—and friend, replete with its Horrors and Beauties—of mine for as long as I can remember. Have no clue as to why this is so, but it is so. And occasionally I find myself fantasizing about my own departure from this planet and how I want to go and be remembered by my friends and family.
Even though I recognize the social and archaeological value of burial rituals, I want no part of them whatsoever! The custom of viewing a corpse and paying your respects is to me—at last—a peculiar and awkward experience. Indeed, whenever I hear of such an event, I make a sharp about-face, and march onward.
Still, I found myself wandering through the Valley of Human Ritual early last year and discovered a treasure of my own therein, which seemed to reconcile my ambivalence toward our ritualistic practices.
I imagined instead of a room filled with weeping people, a celebration of the passage of life—much like the Irish do—but with one singular difference…
I would be part of the celebration.
Why wait until all life has been squeezed out of my lungs to enjoy my passage of life?
Why not be there?
Why not be an active participant?
Why not organize the event myself, instead of placing the burden of these unpleasant arrangements in the hands of those who loved me?
Why wait until I am a corpse to reunite with those whom I valued in life?
And actively engage with them, instead of assuming a passive role in this stage of existence?
So came the thought of planning a huge party, inviting my favorite bands to play there, and joining with others in the celebration of life. Now I realized I may not get everyone to participate, and my attempts to contact my favorite band then were wholly unsuccessful, but still, I rather liked the idea!
So much better, don’t you think, than a bunch of people weeping?
And as for that moment when the last breath of life would pass through me, I determined I would no longer be a burden to Mother Earth, and reduce my corpse to grit, thereby returning to Earth in a speedy—and, hopefully—useful fashion.
For it seems to me that burdening the Earth with a testament of our passage through the development of cemeteries is highly unnecessary. Is it not more sensible to give Mother Earth what she has generously provided us with?
And I imagined perhaps a cupful of my ashes, preserved in an urn for those who loved me, with the inscription, “Buried With My Pen,” as evidenced by the attachment of my favorite instrument there.