Those who have seen Breaking the Waves and Dancer in the Dark know that Danish filmmaker Lars Von Trier tends to focus on issues of sacrifice and forgiveness, especially involving women. Dogville adds rage and revenge to the mix.
Jesus pulls up a chair to tell me about his day. Today at breakfast, when the doors were unlocked, he and the others came out of their rooms, and to his surprise, there were muffins! Everyone here is crazy about muffins. They mean nothing on the outside, but in here (he looks at the floor and trails off). Jesus tugs at the little braids in the nape of his neck. I go to court tomorrow. They say I’ll be sentenced and moved on Friday. He drums the metal table, balances his feet on their heels. With a sign, I heard you can get Snickers over there, at least. Just then, he remembers and pulls a glow-in-the-dark rosary out of his shirt. Jesus says he is learning how to pray, albeit with help from the Virgin prayer card from the priest. At night he draws the blanket over his head and cups the rosary, as if brightness itself offers protection. There is comfort, he says, in knowing his grandmother blessed each bead, and when he slides them through his petitioning hands, it’s as if he’s lacing his fingers into hers. There, in the sanctioned darkness he whispers, Glory be.
He would sit Sunday mornings in his big steepled chair the cross hung gold and unswayed overhead a man in a robe. I had seen him dress sitting on the side of his bed he wore ribbed gauzy undershirts and white boxer shorts and my father’s legs had no hair where socks go. As the organist played a meditation he would span his forehead with his hand and seem to suffer but then leaning back his bright eyes would go fishing for me in the dark congregation and I waited
and waited until he caught me and smiled. During most of the service I stared at unmoving biblical men in stained glass. I loved to have him see me in church and after the sermon I stood in line and went through shaking his hand like we didn’t know each other and I told him I enjoyed it and he put his other hand on top of mine.
It might as well be the inner sea, all these people floating by in surges, welcome calm after the last parishioner slips away at low tide, after the third mass, after he’s greeted each one personally, remembering chief worries, daughter in trouble, husband wronged, teenage boy not certain if he’s in or out of religion, black-hatted old woman who swam in during mass, fluffy white-suited—some misguided angel. The day is old. He walks back alone to the huge rectory built for twelve, now inhabited by one priest and the tidal wave of his God.
Cemetery crowding, especially in large cities or among religious groups that forbid cremation, is becoming a problem worldwide, forcing some creative solutions. Residents of Mexico City must exhume and remove their relatives’ remains after a number of years. A Tower for the Dead project is in the works there: it will include a vertical necropolis along with a subterranean complex 820 feet deep. A simpler solution is to stack graves on top of each other and to share tombstones. Other options being considered are stacking the dead above the ground in niches built into a wall or housing the dead in buildings with each floor resembling a traditional cemetery (AP).