Saturday, January 3, 2015

Death

Woke this morning feeling unhealthy, old, regretting yesterday’s poor eating. Several hours after I prefer to get up, I walked downstairs to make coffee and write. The filter in my coffee press tore and grounds filled the bottom of the mug. Set to mope about that, I remembered it had served for two months and that’s more than a reasonable person can ask of a paper disk. Right then my phone dinged with a text. 

My friend is a good runner, in impeccable shape and devoted to something with which I have carried on passing affairs. I go weeks without running, she goes hours. Her text asked, “Wanna run?” My answer, coffee in hand, heading to the basement nook to write, was no. My friend’s gift is motivating others to improve themselves, so she texted that she was only doing three or four miles. I wrote back that I could be ready by 9:30 and we were off and running. 

This ties back to an essay in Donald Hall’s Essays After Eighty entitled “Death.” He writes how, at 85, he has become less concerned with death. His writing continues to prod my thinking about living and now dying. 

Never have I read the obituaries of my own accord. Other people do and they tell me what they think I need to know. A friend’s ex-brother-in-law became an ex-person two weeks ago and I got an email. My mother is a great source of death notices though my father was the funeral director. Mom likes to deliver breaking news. “Did you hear about…” 

I’m not upset by death or avoiding talk of it. My father’s business was a wonder to me. Most kids’ dads went to work for other people. Not mine. And he buried people. That’s cool. What does your dad do? He buries people. The only thing cooler would be to have a dad who kills people, but that has tough implications for everyone. 

The dead were a fact of my life. The more funerals Dad did, the better off we were. It was clear to me before I understood it that a body was just a body, it wasn't a person any longer. I was okay with that. My brother was grossed out, so the funeral home stuff was something I shared exclusively with Dad. The dead have their good parts. 

I encountered death itself when an old man dropped to the gym floor just after a game. He was in the middle of a sentence, pointing to someone sitting on the court to my right, when his body followed the pointed finger down. People rushed to help, but I knew he was dead. A body doesn't look like a person. The whole thing left me feeling more curious than sad. 

Donald Hall knows that he’s close to the transition from person to body. He writes of it honestly. I have no idea how I will feel about death in forty years, so I listen to him. He expects to be planted in the ground while I hope to be cremated though I don’t yet have a will. I know, I know. 

As a boy I worked at the cemetery trimming grass around headstones, idols and flowers. It was work I hated but it paid well. I still despise mowing even my own lawn, but unshackled from the job, I enjoy cemeteries. A favorite run my friend and I take passes half a dozen small cemeteries and each time I consider the dead within and I wonder. 

I don’t quite know what I wonder about the dead. Perhaps I’m not meant to know yet. I know that I’m not ready or as at peace with death as Donald Hall. Perhaps that’s what got me running or maybe my running friend is more convincing even than death. I’m glad I went running with her and that I have plenty of time in this life to run and write on.