Wednesday, June 28, 2006

FIVE VIEWPOINTS ON THE TOPIC OF DEATH

1.

I want to be shot into space. That would be cool. They should take my body and put it inside of one of those clear plastic tubes like in that movie and fire me into the sun. Maybe something cool would happen, and I'd come out onto the other side, resurrected, with superpowers or something. That would be pretty neat. But even if I was dead for good, I'd still want to be fired into space. I used to have these really cool dreams about being dead in a glass coffin floating around in outer space, and so much time had would pass that I'd float hundreds of light years out of our solar system and into a totally new area of space. In the dreams, my body would be perfectly preserved and my dead eyes would be open, like they were actually seeing the alien stars. Nova remnants, gas clouds, dust would surround me and eventually pass on. Out here, it would be emptier than any place on Earth, more beautiful and lonely than anything human eyes have seen. No matter where you are on Earth, there’s always a spark of life nearby, no matter how small, microbes in the ice, worms under the seafloor. Where I’d be floating, though, there would be nothing even remotely alive for millions of miles. That would be really beautiful, I think.


2.

If you're dead, you're nothing. I thought everyone knew that. I’ve seen enough bodies to know. A corpse isn't a person; it's a thing, a sack of meat without anything special about it. You look in a corpse's eyes and tell me if you see anything inside. When I look down on the operating table after one of my patients dies, I don't see the person who came into the operating room an hour ago. I don't see the guy I discussed the procedure with the day before. I see a dead hunk of skin and bone, and I don't feel anything. I've never understood feeling bad for dead people. They don't feel bad. They don't care if you fucked up or did something wrong or even you didn’t. Why should I feel bad about something that doesn't exist? Why should I get anxious over the fact that I'm going to die? I know I'm going to die, but it's not like I'll care when I do, so why should I bother with worrying about it? Eventually, I'll be one of those sacks of meat and whatever it is that makes me me will be long gone, and I won't be any different than a million other corpses. They say that the brain lives a little bit longer than the body, that a person is trapped inside of their skull for a few brief moments after the body expires, but I don't believe it. All you have to do is look into the eyes and you’ll see that there isn't anything there, and not only that, but you don't understand how you ever could have seen anything there in the first place. Maybe it's all the same thing. Eventually, it'll be me on the operating table, except when I die, I don’t think my eyes will change at all.


3.

When I die, I'm gonna go to heaven, so I don't really care what you do with my body. You can burn it, bury it, eat it, even dump it in the ocean if you want. I won't care. I almost can't wait. It's gonna be so great, the moment I die. I'm gonna be ushered into a big ole dining hall with God Hisself, Jesus on the right and the Holy Spirit on the left and this big golden thing in the center and they're going to be different and the same all at the same time. Can you imagine? And Jesus is going to get up, he's going to be all white and fiery, his eyes will be like kindness or swords and his hair will be like a coal fire without the smoke. I'm not gonna actually see this, see, but I'm going to be knowing it. I'm not gonna have any eyes, see, cause I’ll be dead, but knowing something is deeper than seeing it or hearing it. We don't know anything here down on the ground, we just think we do, but we really don't, and that's why everything is so mucked up. And that's the thing. I don't know I'm gonna go to heaven, but I sure as shootin believe it, and that's what matters to me. I've got faith. I guess when I die, I’ll really know for sure, one way or the other, but I'm not worried about it. I trust that God is gonna take care of me, he's gonna take care of me right fine, and when I get up there, to heaven, see, I'm not going to care what you done to my body, I'm just gonna look down and I'm gonna know you and it's in that knowing that I'm going to be more like God, and it's in that knowing that I'm going to be a better person, because I don't think you can know someone, you know, really know them, and do anything except love them. And that's what God is, see? He is love. And that's why I believe I'm going to heaven and that's why I wanna go.


4.

There isn't going to be enough left of me to bury. I know that one of these days it's going to be me checking the back of the truck, it's going to be me flying backwards when the fucking thing explodes. If it isn't a truck, it'll be something else, but it's going to be me. I can feel it, whatever it is, stalking me. I know that my name is on the tip of its tongue. It looks at me out of windows when I walk by on patrol, it breathes on my neck in the hot desert wind. I see it peaking from the eyes of my buddies in the company. Maybe I'll be relaxing in the barracks and one of the sand niggers is going to sneak up the other side of the wall, me sitting in my bunk with my hands over my eyes, listening to the Shins and thinking about home, and he'll light off his bomb, blowing me and himself to hell. Or maybe it'll be one of those women in black with the hoods and dynamite stuck up between her legs, carrying a basket with fruit on top and C4 underneath. It could be a kid. You never know. But I know I’m next. If they find enough pieces to send back to my gal, I'll be happy, but I know in my heart that I'm never going to see her again.


5.

Someone told me the other day that burial is just an old-fashioned ritual. They told me that we are running out of space to bury our dead; that we are starting to bury people vertically in graveyards, back to back, coffin to coffin. I don't believe that. We've got plenty of space; we've got the whole world. When you die and they burn you up, there isn't anything left but a bunch of ash; when they scatter that ash, there isn't even a hint left that you ever existed. When I die, I don't want to disappear into the wind. I want people to remember me; I want people to be able to visit me, to be able to ground themselves on something real, a real stone, a real cross, a real tiny patch of God's green earth. It might be old-fashioned, but rituals always have reasons behind them. People used to bury corpses and say they were supposed to because their holy book told them so, but that wasn't true. The people who started off burying corpses were farmers and peasants and countrymen. They were tied to the earth while they were alive, and when they died, their relatives gave them back to the earth. Even though it was a funeral, even though the person was dead, the ritual itself was life-affirming. No one would ever bury a friend or relative in their cornfield, but the dirt that corn grew from was the same dirt they buried each other in. It isn't something old-fashioned, it's something beautiful and profound, and I can't exactly say why, but the fact that nobody gets buried anymore just divorces us from something we can't escape and distances us further from something we should be trying to move closer to, both as people and as a society. That's why they aren't going to burn me up, they're not going to scatter my ashes and burn anyway what’s left behind. I have a history that I do not want consumed by fire. I want to be buried in a field at dawn, just a pine box and a simple marker. And as I start to slowly decay, the worms will feed, the grass will grow tall, the sun will rise and set, and I shall deeper know the earth and through that earth myself.

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