Monday, October 18, 2004

"Happiness is nonetheless true happines because it must come to an end.

..Nor do thought and love lose their value because they are not everlasting."

...Bertrand Russel

Several of us lost a friend this week. For me. he was not as close friend as he might have been, but I knew him for a long time and always enjoyed the sight of him. I never knew of him to be less than a nice person. He is one of those good people for which there is now an empty place in the world for his having left it.

His passing happened electronically for me. An email. Somewhere in my mind, Paul was living, and then I read that he was not. Most deaths are that way. We get the news and the world has changed, even before the thought can completely form in our minds.

We prepare for birth much more gradually. A call from my brother says I am going to be an Uncle again. And then one from my sister. and then one from...You folks know the drill. We have time to prepare the passenger compartment for arrival. There is never enough preparation for departure...never. Even when our friend and mentor, Bob, gave us years notice of his impending departure, we were still stunned somewhat when his wife called and said, "You know that call you've been expecting? This is it." Bob had passed and the years of knowing and preparing didn't help much.

Death and passing was very hard for me when I subscribed to the supernatural beliefs of religion. I remember hating god for killing my father when I was ten. I remember feeling fearful for hating god. This meant that I was going to hell even more than I was already for having done the things an adolescent boy does that he never tells anyone about but which he has been lead to believe are going to send him straight to hell.

A couple of childhood friends "went to heaven", which should have been a good thing, right? But it wasn't. Everyone cried. That's not how you celebrate a happy thing. I got one of the toys that Emory had left when he went to heaven. I don't know what happened to it and I can't even remember what is was now. Zeke had leukemia back in the days when it meant he was going to go away no matter what. We played wiffle ball baseball with him when he came over. he was very athletic. Maybe better than we were, but then he started gettting tired and then he stopped coming over. His parents bought him special toys, like a gas powered model airplane made of plastic. It was the first one any of us had ever seen that came out of a box, all ready to crash. After Zeke "went to heaven" they gave the plane to Chip, who lived a few houses down. We crashed it pretty good and then it was gone. It didn't mean anything to us. It wasn't Zeke. He was fun...the plane was noisy and smelled bad, and we couldn't make it fly anyway.

Somewhere along the way, I stopped thinking that heaven, as it was presented to me in church, was a real place. It just took too much effort to keep up the self delusion. Nothing that happened in the real world supported the idea for me, anyway, only things that some people said but couldn't back up or prove, except by something someone else had said or written but couldn't prove. So that circle got broken. it was a long process and has come around in my thoughts to a good rational belief system. I sum it up like this:

"Danged if I know and I'm Pretty sure no body else knows either."

Put a label on that if it helps you. Here are some to pick from:

Rationalist, Skeptic, Freethinker, A-gnostic, Whatever, What difference does it make? What's it to you?

I think I am actually a "What'sit-toyou?". The only thing I am sure of is that I am definitely not a Baptist. Sorry, to anyone this offends.

Death then becomes very easy to deal with intellectually. A physical process has stopped processing and cannot resume under any circumstances. As far as I know, it never has been any different.

My dog Shadrack ceased to function when I was four, and we put him in a sack and dropped him into the Oconee river. I watched my Dad drop the sack off the bridge between Dublin and East Dublin when I was small enough to be having my first dead dog. We stopped the car on the road next to the bridge rail. Dad got out and opened the trunk and took out the box that had Shadrack and some old bricks tied up in a burlap sack. We called it a "gunny" sack for some reason. Dad held everything, box, sack, and what was inside the gunny sack over the side of the rail for a moment...and then he let it drop. I watched it get smaller as it descended and then it hit the yellow green water. The water opened up a hole and let the box come inside. I remember that instant. It is one of those crystalline moments in my memory. Then the box went deeper and the hole in the water closed up.

Shadrack was replaced a few days later by a new Shadrack, but it wasn't really him. Shadrack's physical processes had ceased and would not resume, but a new little terrier of some very mixed sort, filled in the spot where the other Shadrack had been, with a new and incessant energy, which would of course, cease in its own time. This is the way it is. I know that. When you get a dog, it is more than likely going to leave before you do. Birth to death, you should live about seven times and a little more years than your dog will, so that least seven broken hearts, dogwise, before it is our turn. We know it's going to happen and most of us will cry just a little bit, whether we let anyone see or not. We still let the puppy into our heart.

For many years, I think I tried not to let any more people into my heart. Some of them were going to cause me the pain of leaving before I did. Now that doesn't matter. People too, give the equivalent of times of puppy breath and nipped fingers and the feel of soft fur if you let them. Those moments stay with us forever. They are a part of what we are. Heaven is in these moments.

The memory of a helpful smile, "Hey, what's happening, How are you?" The sharing of a canoeing trip with his child memory, taking longer than expected until way after dark, but safe because they were together through the adventure, only His wife was so worried because they were late and what if they didn't come back? But they did. And they made more puppy memories together and bits of heaven for a long time after that. And now...He didn't come back. He meant accident.


But his gift of memories stays with us. This is not as good as thinking there will be new ones but this is what life is, and it is terrible and wonderful and magnificent and it really really sucks sometimes, but mostly, it is worth hanging on to. It is the only Heaven we are guaranteed to ever have.

There are very many people who will miss this man. The depth of their grief will be measured by his gift of memories and heaven to each of them. The greater the one, the deeper the other, but the world will always be different for his having lived upon it...Better.



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