Posts Tagged ‘Religion’

Death

Saturday, August 29th, 2009

People keep dying.

Celebrities. Relatives. Some obscure people. Some powerful people. People no one has or ever will hear of.

More U.S. Solders died in Afganistan this month than in any other since the current war there started (beating out last month’s record).

Why does this seem remarkable? Is there anything different about it right now? How many times in this last year have we heard the phrase “…end of an era” as a way of marking the death of someone or another. I do wonder if it has to do with the whole Obama thing giving us a sense of historic focus. But then we also have the wars and the recession/depression thing too.

Today is the confluence of Michael Jackson’s birthday (which is remarked upon because of his death), the funeral of Ted Kennedy, and the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina hitting the gulf coast. Add to this, personally, that one of my uncles just died. What to choose… What to feel… hmmm…

Totally off topic here but I do have a Ted Kennedy joke I’d like to share: You know it turns out it wasn’t the tumor in his head that killed him. It turns out there was another tumor on the grassy knoll…

…too soon?

One thing I’ve been glad of is that I haven’t seen very much reference to the “Celebrities Die in Threes” trope. It’s always bugged me. I mean it has to be one of the stupidest things EVER. It could well be that when the human race slips into extinction we will find out that the total number of humans who ever existed will be a multiple of three. Or at least the total number of celebrities will be divisible by three. But its more likely that the number will not be a multiple of three, and more importantly, as the species disappears, is this REALLY going to be the most important question?

ANYTHING can be grouped into threes. Look at the stars. They’re all arranged in threes!… I’ve even noticed that after a cycle of three days, my life repeats and has ANOTHER cycle of three days!… spooky… Like all forms of numerology, it says more about the creativity of the numerologist than the nature of any kind of hidden order.

There is a thing about “Beginning-Middle-End” that makes groups of three deeply calming to our innate desire for order. So when two people die, we probably look for the third as a way of containing death. So that it won’t go on some kind of rampage in which EVERYBODY eventually dies, which is of course the big truth that we spend most of our lives distracting ourselves from. The theory of three deaths, is like a mini religion.

Truth is the boomers are dying. The post-war demographic bulge of births from the late 40s to the early 60s is falling off the cliff of time. And people who were important to the boomers are being noticed as they go. Presumably this will go on for awhile.

Or is it just that I’m getting to that age when I notice the obituaries more…

Hmmm…

Fear (addendum)

Saturday, September 20th, 2008

After I posted yesterday’s entry I was watching some Ted talks (as I am wont to do), and saw the new one by Jonathan Haidt. I’ve seen him speak before and he always challenges me in really interesting ways, but the more I thought, and talked about this talk, the more profound it became to me. I also couldn’t escape the relevance to what I was trying to get at in yesterday’s post.

I haven’t read it yet, but Anne Bogart says that Haidt’s The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom is one of her favorite books.

Enjoy…

Belief

Thursday, August 7th, 2008

I’m currently in LA.

I’m staying in the home of my friend Anthony. One of the features of this house is a kitchen that is to die for. It’s pretty sweet. Actually, it’s pretty and sweet. One of the best designed and equipped kitchens I’ve ever seen.

One thing that this kitchen doesn’t have is a microwave oven. I suspected that Anthony just didn’t like them, but because everything in this kitchen is built into the walls, there was a slim chance that I simply hadn’t seen it (the first time I was in this kitchen, I couldn’t find the fridge). So today I asked Anthony if I was right that there was no microwave, or was I simply missing it. He confirmed that there was no microwave and then he said, “I don’t believe in microwaves.”

This suddenly struck me as interesting. It is not that if I took Anthony to a department store and showed him the microwave ovens and guided his hand to touch the surface, and showed him how they worked, his disbelief would be dispelled. Clearly this is not what he was saying.

What interested me was realizing that when someone says that they don’t believe in god, or evolution, or anthropogenic climate change we assume that they are questioning the very existence of these things. When in fact what they may be saying is that they simply don’t care. That they simply place no faith in these things. That they want nothing to do with them.

Ok. I’m no idiot. I know that that’s not usually what’s going on, but it does seem interesting to think about these arguments from that angle.

hmmm….

Melbourne 4 (Thanksgiving)

Thursday, November 22nd, 2007

Thursday was a strange day.

My Godparents, the Vorlands, are former Missionaries, colleagues of my own parents. They had a distribution of children that was, although not identical, akin to the distribution of myself and my siblings. Most notably from my perspective right now is that their youngest son Andy was my age and we were very close childhood friends, and their eldest daughter Cathy was the same age as my sister Ruth and they shared a very close bond growing up.
Cathy eventually grows up and moves to Australia. She marries and raises a family here in Melbourne. Seven or so years ago she is diagnosed with Cancer. It advances, and this last Saturday, she passed away.
Her parents were here because they knew it was getting close, so I e-mailed them and found out where/when the funeral was. Appropriately enough the funeral was on American Thanksgiving day. Conveniently enough the church where it was to be held was so close to the VAC where Barney and I are working, that I could walk there from the theatre in three minutes. So I asked Barney to “take over” and I went to the funeral on Thursday morning.

Haven’t been to a funeral in a long time, but I do spend a good deal of time contemplating death. The odd thing here was to be contemplating it in public and within the context of Christianity. Now I don’t want to go too far out on this particular limb, because I don’t want to step on feelings which are inviolate and perhaps holy. But it is very odd to me that Christianity, which along with a lot of other religions, makes a claim to understanding and being able to explain death, doesn’t seem to eliminate the deep freak-out that happens when it occurs. My late father, who had experienced a lot of it, and was quite sober about it in my experience said to me once that “The only thing you can really count on in another person, is that they are going to die.” This is (pending radical breakthroughs in medicine or metaphysics) simply true.
As I said, I don’t want to trample on anyone’s feelings, and I’m sure that I’m not above this personally either, but it does seem to me that the intensity evident in how we confront death hints at the fact that we at least suspect, that it is indeed the end. Full stop. I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. As beings, non-being is the toughest thing to confront, and anything (within reason) that a person does to seek comfort in that moment is legit in my book.

So given this kind of musing, I’m not exactly the person you want at your funeral, but I was there at Cathy’s and it was a beautiful service. Her bereaved husband’s eulogy was eloquent, heartfelt and delivered with a dignity that I found moving. Andy, who is a photographer in Tokyo, sent a beautifully executed photo montage, set to music. One of the striking things about this was that the photos at the beginning all showed the much younger, elder Vorlands caring for the infant Cathy, and the shots near the end we similar situations of the same people care giving, with everyone 57 years older.
Not to diminish any of the gestures and tributes that were given, the one that stood out for me was one of Cathy’s sons, who made a small speech before playing Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring on the piano. The speech was something he had written a number of days before, and although it was at moments, convoluted and a touch naive in it’s logic, the sentiment was the sentiment of a poetic soul confronting the finality of death. The central point, and I’m going to bastardize it horribly here, was that the pain of loss was the price we pay for consciousness, and that for him the twenty some years of support and kisses that he received from his mother was worth the price. He was reaching for joy. I don’t know this young man, but I recognized a fellow traveler. He then, as he put it, “Banged out some Bach.” It was sublime.

I had to get back to the work at the theatre. The elder Vorlands, were understandably not in a good place to meet or talk to. The middle Vorland son, Keith was there, and I talked to him for a bit. Here to was a person dealing with the situation with a grace and easy nobility that I found inspiring. From deep in my youth, I remember Keith having an upbeat disposition and an easy smile. Here’s the kind of guy you want at your funeral, I thought. I greeted Cathy’s husband, and left.
I came away with two things. First and foremost, I came away wishing that I had known Cathy better. I spent an afternoon with her when I was here in Melbourne 15 years ago. This is my strongest most substantial memory of her. In fact it is close to my only memory of her. It is a testament to the love she inspired in others that was evident at her funeral, that I ended up feeling a loss for something I never really, in practical terms, had.
Secondly and more bitterly, I was deeply affected by the evident pain that my Godparents were in. It was clear, despite his noble efforts to stay whole, my Godfather had been utterly shattered. And Keith said that his mother just kept repeating that “It’s not supposed to be like this.” I’m not someone who is going to win any medals for being a “good son.” And I’m not even sure if there are actual duties as a God-son that I’ve been missing. There probably are. But I don’t think I’ve ever loved the Vorlands quite as much as I do right now, and I’m not ashamed to say that out loud (are blogs “out loud?”)

All of this has made me reflect on a part of my life that I don’t reflect on very much.

So when I got back to the theatre it was composition presentation day, and we saw the work that the participants have been making in the afternoons since Monday. It was site-specific work. They presented pieces all over the environs of the VAC (Victorian Arts Center). They were fantastic. Some of the best sight-specific composition work I’ve EVER seen. The subject is John Cage, so I’m asking them to mess with the live dividing art from life anyway, but they really went there. It was like watching happenings from the ’60s. Both Barney and I were very happy.
I’ll probably write more about this next week, but this group we’re working with here is really great. It’s allowing Barney and I to really experiment and work on our stuff. Follow our interests.

Laura Sheedy is the driving force behind setting up this program and brining us here. Her mother Mavis used to live in NYC, so she wanted to throw us a thanksgiving dinner. So Barney and I and a small group went over to the house that Laura grew up in and had a fantastic time. It wasn’t a sit-down dinner or anything tense. It was very relaxed, with a fantastic Ham as the main event, oysters, some excellent cheese from King Island and the Aussie specialty “Sausage Roll”. It was a wonderful way to round off a dramatic and somewhat wrenching day.

There was nothing traditional about this thanksgiving. And I discovered that this is the only tradition I’m interested in. The tradition of not having a tradition. Of inventing it all over again every time. Not of not having a good time, but not recapitulating past good times. I don’t want to sit around in the memories of other years. I want to create the new ones. That’s something I can feel some loyalty to.

Get in the habit of breaking habits!

Happy Neo-Thanksgiving.