Wednesday, May 11, 2005

The Last Taboo

What does the priest say on Ash Wednesday?

"Remember, o child of God, you came from dust and to dust you shall return."

There are three topics one is supposed to avoid at proper dinner parties – politics, sex, and religion.

There is a fourth, so taboo it is not even named.

We are mortal. We are going to die. One day we will no longer walk this earth in these fragile physical bodies.

After years of being obsessed with our bodies, with thinning hair and wrinkles and age spots, it will fade away. Back to dust.

The universe has conspired to remind me of my mortality lately. I have been less than amused by most of the reminders.

The first reminder came about two weeks ago, at work. Management wanted emergency contact information, in the event that we keel over at work. There was also some concern that we might have an emergency at home and not be able to call.

I only have a semblance of a relationship with one neighbor, Edgar, who lives immediately east of me. Edgar has lived in this neighborhood since the 40s, and undoubtedly intends to die here. He's a little nosy, so I'm reluctant to let him in my house. I believe my house-keeping skills (or lack thereof) are between me and my friends. Edgar is an acquaintance.

I don't currently have a girlfriend. My geographically closest living relative is not emotionally close.

The question not only reminded me of my mortality, it reminded me how alone I am.

Thanks. I was already feeling pretty lonely.

It almost became a major issue until I decided – screw it. I gave them the number of Brother Dave and my step-sister Dana. Dave lives in Texas hill country, and couldn't do much if I didn't answer my phone, but they didn't care. They just wanted the blanks filled. Dana lives about an hour and a half away, and wouldn't be able to do much more than Dave. But, again, they asked for two names and I gave them two names.

With any luck, I'll have my heart attack at work when I'm climbing the stairs. I don't suppose a health center campus is the worst place for it.

The following Sunday, there was a forum at church about DNRs and living wills and such. I had a choice about this one, but I chose to go. What the hell. I couldn't feel much more morose.

This Monday, I was asked how I wanted to have my great-great grandchildren to remember me. I don't have children. I can't predict the future, but "if these shadows remain unchanged", it's unlikely I will have children. So, the great-great question triggered that same loneliness response.

I got home after seeing that question. The coup de grace was waiting in my mailbox.

An application for AARP.

It came about six months early. But the application came with a flimsy temporary card with my name on it. Somehow, it made it official. I'm old.

You're OOOOOLLLLLDDDDD. You're alone and you're going to die alone.

Let's name that boogie man. Let's confront him and spit in his face.

Well, he's wrong to begin with. I have all kinds of friends. Folks who would miss me when I was gone.

They might even chip in to buy a stone with my preferred epitaph:
"He was a nice guy, and we kind of miss him."

Perhaps we are born alone and die alone. Perhaps we have a divine companion from first breath to the last, and beyond. These are matters of personal choice, philosophy, or faith.

I have a choice to listen to that boogie man who speaks woe in the dark chambers of my imagination. Or, I may choose to listen to the voice of love.

The voice of love speaks from within and without. This voice of love has spoken through a powerful cloud of witnesses, who speak from beyond eternity. It includes Gran, and Momom, and Padre, and even Wanda. It includes friends who greet me with laughter and care today.

It may even include you, who read these words, and offer your own words of encouragement.

Yes, I am mortal. Yes, this fragile frame will crumble into dust. One day, unless I change my mind, I will be buried between Grandpa Will and Padre.

But there's more to the story. I may not know the end for certain, but I intend to enjoy the journey.

Just because one is mindful of death does not mean one cannot celebrate life.

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