Sometimes my life feels overwhelmingly concerned with, well, the not-living. Or at least, involved study with these concepts sometimes makes it difficult to look beyond (ha, what a pun!) the inevitability of death and to slow down, take a deep breath, and remember what is significant, relevant (and alive) in my own life.
This past Wednesday I attended a field trip with my COPACE classmates of The Final Chapter. We went to a funeral home located on Main Street, not too far from Clark. The funeral home was called the Graham, Putnam, and Mahoney Funeral Parlor. At first, it was intriguing. Then, it was intimidating. And finally, upon seeing the shape of a corpse beneath a sheet, noticing the faded pink toes peeking out from where the sheet couldn't quite cover, it was incredibly frightening. Upsetting. The realization of the inevitability of death struck hard, despite my mother's input (as I walked back to my home, exclaiming into the phone through rain (of course it rained while I was visiting a funeral home)) that "bodies are just a vessel".
Right. And though comforted by the sentiment, I came to realize that even if this is so, the body is the image of the person that most represents what we remember. It is striking, and strange, and surprising and unsettling to see a body that is no longer alive.
And then I began to wonder of the morbidity of those who work in a funeral parlor - seeing death so frequently, does it lower their threshold? Do they feel helpless, constantly bombarded by the confirmation, the certainty, of death? They spoke of the topic with such care and compassion, and yet so offhandedly.
The director of the home, Peter, was not hopeless nor helpless in the slightest. In his quirky and somewhat teasing manner, he spoke positively of the importance of making meaning in life; through involvement with social movements, writing, film-making, activism. He said something along the lines of, "you do the best you can today, and if you don't make it tomorrow, then that's that". He expressed disdain towards folks who "spend their days working jobs they can't stand, returning home only to eat ice-cream and popcorn on the couch while they watch television".
It's curious, this pattern emerging, that those who spend their time working with death frequently feel that they are able to contribute so much meaning to life.
Regardless, I started to worry, can I ever be as nonchalant (& still respectful) of death? When I work with death, is my breath going to catch in my throat every time I see a body-no-longer-alive?
Death is a strange concept, but one that is manageable. I remember a discussion in class in which death was compared to any major transition; be it a divorce, a break-up, a relocation, a new job. As a senior I am transitioning. In my social life, larger and less familiar transitions are occurring. As upsetting as they are currently, I know that it's okay. Because transitions, uncomfortable despite, don't last forever.
So: death as a transition. Maybe it becomes more manageable over time. New jobs are always difficult to begin, break-ups are always hard, and forming new friendships can sometimes be equally as stressful as they are fulfilling. Transitions are a significant and necessary part of life, but they do seem to get easier the more practice one has going through a particular one.
I'm not suggesting reincarnation here. But perhaps, the more times I recognize death, the more time spent with the dying, the more fluid the transition will appear. Maybe every instance will be different, but perhaps it won't be such a terrifying thing anymore.
Peter (the director) said that people are afraid of death because they're afraid of the unknown. Maybe it's the familiarity that makes his work able to be done more smoothly, more comfortably, with respect, but without alarm nor terror.
I'm not certain of how my life will be significant yet; which movements I will be involved with, where my passions will take me. But I do know that if I want a fulfilling life, I need to make something of it.
Clark, I must thank you for this. Before coming to college I was somewhat hopeless. Being at Clark opened my eyes to a variety of wonderful things; handing me the ability to connect with other folks, to become involved, to do things, anything, to make meaning in life.
And here, to close out a somewhat heavy entry, is Monty Python presenting you with their meaning of life.
(Or, if you prefer Douglas Adams, 42).