Sunday, August 28, 2016

The Living, The Dead, The Hip


Writing this morning, I listened to The Tragically Hip’s Fully Completely. They just finished what is likely their last tour. Gord Downie has terminal brain cancer. The story, the terminal nature of it all, lingers over everything about them for me right now. I don’t like endings and fail to believe they are beginnings of something new. Endings are final and there is just nothing I can do about that. It eats at me.

Yesterday, walking to the coffee shop, I passed the building, now a bar, that was a funeral home my father managed. Oh, Dad, I said wistfully, wishing he would come back from his eighteen months gone. It feels like decades. I can’t recall where in that building his office was. Another question atop the towering stack of things I can no longer ask him, things that wouldn’t matter at all were he still here. At the coffee shop I ordered strong, black decaf. He drank it black, I take it strong, neither of us did caffeine.

Later I went out for a jog that took me to the hills of St. Mary’s Cemetery. I passed through the main gates and down the hill. I followed the creek to the old road leading to the upper section. I run with a heart-rate monitor and a plan to stay between 122 and 132 beats per minute. It slows me down and reduces me to walking most of the tree covered hill between the two sections. The path there is through woods with the occasional glimpse of a backyard. No graves on that hill but it was quiet as death and a place of contentment if not happiness. Coming over the top of the hill, back into the sunshine and humidity, I passed stones from the turn of the last century. My heart-rate climbed too high and the monitor chirped. It had me thinking of the flat-lines buried all around, their only undulations the sinking and heaving earth over their decaying bodies.

Cemetery roads loop rather than go anywhere. I followed loops through that upper section, staring over a broken fence into a backyard thinking that I would enjoy such a place. What do the kids there tell their friends? Growing up in a house connected to a funeral home — not the one near the library — I joked that the neighbors were quiet. I didn’t want to admit the prestige I felt living so uniquely close to the dead. Following the loops past stones whispering names and dates, I heard echoes of my past.

Dad is under a stone in a different cemetery. I don’t visit. Gord Downie will be under a stone soon or scattered in a cloud somewhere according to his traditions. As if it matters. No one in St. Mary’s cares enough that their heart flutters. It’s less a place for the dead than for the boy in the house abutting the quiet cemetery. It’s a place too for a man, jogging through, listening to the breeze, imagining the Tragically Hip, everything winding down. The monitor chirps, his heart still beating. His ending not yet come. Still, he must slow down, take time living amidst the memories of the dead and the fear of what must happen to all no matter how hip.