I have a very hard time talking to families of the dead at funerals. Every word sounds so much like blather, and it feels like my mouth is full of ashes, and the efforts to form meaning out of ashes is so damn futile. I think at times like that its better to let your tears, facial expressions , and gestures do the talking.
I have the same issue with talking publicly after tragedies as it seems to me most of us endeavor to sort out some kind of meaning through the eloquence of our thoughts as if it were a way to assure ourselves that we can reason with the cold and pitiless nature of existence. It appears to be a foolish way of thinking, but still something in our heart tells us that the effort must be made.
I wrote the following in a dark moment moment of grief when I was standing above the body of my 31 year marriage, grief stricken and wobbling, but still trying to maintain a vertical relation to the ground below my feet and the sky above my head. It is really an argument to myself on why I needed to remain standing when all I really wanted to do was lie down beside the body and cry.
" There’s scene in On the Road where Dean Moriarty abandons Sal Paradise in San Francisco, and Sal is left standing all alone on a street corner where he achieves a state of ecstasy, and momentarily realizes the freedom that he so idolizes in Dean and which he had been chasing relentlessly back and forth across the continent.
I had a Zen moment like that one foggy November night coming out of a Save Mart in Belle Vista about ten o’clock. I had gone to see a movie and stopped to shop. I was scurrying to my car in an almost empty parking lot, clutching a plastic bag full of stuff to make my lunches for the week when it dawned on me that not a single person who I loved or cared about knew where I was. It was complete freedom of a sort, but I was nowhere near ecstatic as Sal. I felt the icy fingers of loneliness grip my heart; I felt a cold, empty universe whisper in my ear.
I missed my wife so much. I would have paid a thousand dollars to hear her voice on the other end of a phone call asking where the fuck I was.
I can’t wrap my mind around why any sane person would identify with atheism. It is one thing to purse your lips and imitate a prudish, middle-aged, spinster schoolteacher and point out all the misery poured out on the human race in the name of religion. Any sanctimonious jackass with a halfway decent grasp of history could do that to their heart’s content.
History is a virtual smorgasbord of man’s inhumanity toward his fellow man. Not just any smorgasbord either but the one at Caesar’s in Vegas. There is something very perverse in taking such great pride in the ability to point just how more perverse and venal everybody else is.
I can not imagine anything more horrible than the idea that the universe has no purpose, or in the belief that I brought my two beautiful daughters into existence in such a universe where the sole point of their being was to create a few isolated moments of happiness sandwiched into the pages of a larger book documenting their slow and painful march to the grave."
The message here is about finding meaning. We used to believe in such an idea, but now faith in a meaningful existence is scoffed at and ridiculed. Our lab-coated masters have ordered us to toss aside our past, our mythic languages, and our gods. We are taught that the mysteries of our inner world have no more substance than a fart.
So our schools now teach our children that it is their fate to watch the world before them march into a grave. That its okay to argue trivialities but not to ever think about the real meaning of our role in the Cosmos. Doesn't it strike anybody as being strange that more people are willing to argue about the color of a virtual dress online than are willing to think about the meaning of life? We pay millions of dollars for someone to advise us about the wisdom of a coach's decision on a third down play, but ridicule those who try to offer hope.
I get it. It's hard to do. I too would rather be looking down at my phone than standing at a graveside staring at a hole, but the way we do things now produces madness. We only face that terrible vision when our road shortens and we are waiting our own turn in line and can start to see the others ahead of us descend. Then there are no longer any football games, action movies, or political debates interesting enough to divert our attention. At that point, Kim Kardashian's ass is no longer wide enough to block our vision of the end.
It is then that we can no longer avoid the question posted at the gateway out of Eden- who are we and why does our existence matter? We'll have to ask ourself then did all the tilling of the soil, the cutting of the trees, the pouring of the concrete, the walking on the moon really advance our cause, or was it all just tearing with bloody jagged nails on a scratched up coffin lid.
I would argue that it was meaning that was missing from the gunman's life and from all the lives of those seek to destroy the world, who seek to destroy the angels in their flights and desire to stop us all, every last one of us, from dreaming.
I would also argue that we miss out on the essence of what is really going on when we begin to argue about the method of such destruction not understanding that the weapons are only tools in the hands of demons who will tear at us with their nails and chew at our flesh if we let down our guard enough to let them get close.
I believe that those who are foolish enough to think that the State alone can protect our families from these demons who hunt down the weak and the unsuspecting are seriously misguided. Voting will never change this. There are no laws or regulations that will ever make events like this stop from happening, at least not as long as there is a single drop of snake venom in our blood, or until the last savage growl rends the nights of our despair.
The first murder occurred at the dawn of time and the weapon was probably a stone. It was the Father of all such murders and the bodies lying on that bar room floor are the brothers and sisters of the those bodies that floated ashore on Norman beaches and those found lying on the cracked pavements of Chicago nearly every day of the year. They are made of the same stuff as the ashes that lay across the landscape the day after Hiroshima.
I reject those voices who claim that mankind is not worthy of mercy. You have to overlook massive mountains of human achievement to utter such nonsense. Humans have died by the hundreds of thousands to halt the spread of tyranny. We feed, and we heal . We stand erect and move forward despite the ignorance of our self-serving politicians and having to overcome the fact that we carry an ever increasing mass of humanity on our backs because they have chosen to give up the fight. On top of it all, we now have to work all day and then guard the night from those who can't stand the fact that we are still standing, or, at least, care enough to make the effort.
Only the realization that one day we will all fall victim to the Reaper might open up our eyes and hearts enough to realize that our job as human beings is and always has been to search for better ways and to remain standing upright while lending comfort to the living and praying over the dead; to do that and pass down what goodness we have learned upon our journey.
If we truly wanted to stop the suffering; if we really desired to stop the senseless killing, we would need to try our best to agree upon a way of spreading hope to the entire human race and not just those who are already inclined to hope. We would need to teach our children to defend their ability to dream of better days and to not point grisly fingers or hurl curses at those who disagree with their glib opinions.
Most of all, we would need to restore the common ground beneath our feet, so we might help our neighbors understand (or vice versa) that all of mankind's great achievements and advances lead to nothing without the knowledge that our lives, and the lives of everyone who has ever struggled to stand erect in the face of tragedy, possesses meaning.