A well-established French cinematic tradition is to spin out a story that seems to be about very little—until you get a peek beneath the surface and can see it is about a dizzying number of things. Then the themes and symbols rain down, forcing you to watch and listen carefully lest you miss one of the clues that helps explain, perhaps even solve, the tale.
I’ve seen the Kathmandu corpses, garlanded with marigolds, burned to a crisp, holy smoke sifting across the river, censing the air for the tourists. In Annapurna’s narrow lap this valley, chock full of bones, is too cramped for burials. Instead, the dead are loaded onto burn piles stacked with logs from the foothills, now naked and eroding, pillaged for ceremony, death gathering to itself more death up the slow gradient of necessity. Mourners chant. Mortality teaches our ears, eyes, noses as the little boats of skeletal ash and charcoal are launched, freed from the funeral ghats, to drift downstream.
Urged now to weigh the manner of my final dispersal, I’m not averse to incineration. But I confess this foolish comfort: to lie beside my husband in our grave—a double bed we chose together— the full, aged remnant of the body he loved, knowing heaven can pull together from earth or urn, from bones or ashes, whatever is needed for what’s next.
Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it. Psalm 81:10 (KJV)
Don’t be afraid of your hunger. I gave it for your fullness, The cravings, the pinched gullet, the corrosive wants, all have come to serve you. Don’t be afraid of the pablum, the drivel in your diet, or the sharp cactus burrs when you swallow. Don’t be afraid even if you don’t know you are hungry.
If, as Karl Barth said, God may speak through a blossoming shrub or a dead dog, I reckon God may be found at rock festivals. At least that is my hope every spring as the Chicago winter finally eases its grip and I begin planning rock music outings.
“I have been even as a man that hath no strength, free among the dead . . . Shall thy loving-kindness be showed in the grave?” —Psalm 88
Some days I feel as old as father Abraham, doddering father of a teen-aged daughter who last week attended her first “real” concert, at the crowded Aragon Ballroom in Uptown. When will my own days feel real again, the frozen clock hands begin to turn again? When will this chemical burning in the veins stop, and hope, perhaps, be recompensed? I wear this long wool coat against the cold that hurts me, covered with two scarves, my face covered to avoid any feeling of cobwebs, with their every thread feeling like a tiny razor blade slicing the skin. There is no ounce of benignity in this feeling. Maybe that is why the winter mask, last week found at Target, most accurately resembles a terrorist accessory, all black- hooded with eye slits. Were I to wear it, I would appear on campus like an ISIS recruit, no doubt a proud servant in his mind, clouded by the violence of the mission and sentence he honors. O the necessary horrors, those airstrikes occurring in the body’s battleground, leveled at the cells. If I were to wear the black hood, guise of a hangman (not the one hanged), I fear that campus security would target me, bucolic space locked down in emergency protocol. That’s all I would be: self-terrorist, strapped with the various wires of my sickness.
Katrina Spade, founder of the Urban Death Project, plans to compost human remains with wood chips inside a three-story concrete core. She argues that this approach is even more ecologically sound than cremation, which creates greenhouse gases. Bob Fells, executive director of the International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association, thinks treating human remains as a waste product is disrespectful. Spade is hoping to break ground for the composting facility in Seattle by 2022 (Slate, July 15).