Thursday, October 4, 2007

A Couple of Days of Dead

Do you ever have days or weeks or months where you want a respite that is a little beyond a vacation or a sabbatical, but isn't totally permanent. As in stone, cold, forever dead?

I do.

I don't have a death wish and I'm not suicidal, but I do have days when I think dead sounds nice for a little bit. There's something attractive about it. Something liberating... And yet, I'm not at all interested in its permanence. I like being alive—even when it's painful, draining, and demoralising—because I know the good outweighs the bad, and because love and laughter exist and make it all worth it at the end of a shitty day.


I grew up in a religion that teaches its adherents that we—the human race—lived before this life and that we will live again after this life. (Granted, my religion also teaches that the afterlife is a multi-level marketing scheme of glories and exaltations, but no religion is perfect now, is it?)

For many years that was comforting for me. It was a knowledge I carried with me from a young age when my first grade teacher—Ms. Bills—died of a brain tumor and it fell to my mother to explain the vagaries of life and death to a six-year old.

Ms. Bills, she told me, had gone on to a spirit world where she was at peace and happy and where everything was beautiful—a place of effulgent spring mornings with fields of tulips and chirping robins and warm sunshine. She was free, my mother explained, from earthly cares and concerns and had been reunited with her loved ones who had preceded her in death.

I held on to that notion for decades, and sometimes—despite my lack of participation in the faith of my mothers and fathers—I still believe that. That there is more to this life than just simply being and dying.

Other days, I think, this is it. When I die, I die. The end. All I will be is six feet under pushing up daisies, as the television shows say. I'll be worm food. Microbial fodder. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

Of course, having paid a lot of tithing over the years into the same religion that told me there was more to death after life than just being dead, I'm hoping it's a little more of the former than of the latter, because if it isn't, I want my money back, dammit!


But getting back to that idea of being free from earthly cares and concerns, being unfettered by those things that make us and those around us mortal—"only human," as we like to say—and therefore prone to cause one another pain. That idea of freedom holds a certain appeal...

The other day I told a friend, I sometimes wish I could have a clean slate. Especially when life has been particularly gunky and agonisingly grown-up. She said, we can never really have a clean slate because we are part of that slate.

Ah, the rub. We can be our own worst (or best) asset.

And yet, she's right. And try as we might, our slate will never be entirely devoid of chalk dust or gouges.


How does one reach a place of eternal rest and repose without actually cashing it all in?

I’m reminded of a story about a talented young man who was horribly injured and lost the ability to practice his craft. A gifted musician, he found himself unable to play the violin any longer and he began to drift into bitterness and anger. His therapist began engaging in art therapy with this youth and one day, the boy drew a picture of a cracked and broken vase to describe how he felt about his mangled body. The therapist filed it away and continued to work with him over the next year.

Eventually, through ongoing physical and occupational therapy, the young man became less bitter and angry and he started to move forward. A year after his accident, the therapist pulled out his file on the young man and extracted the drawing of the vase. Placing it in front of him, he asked about the drawing and his feelings about himself then versus now. In reply, the young man picked up a yellow marker and began drawing lines from the cracks and chinks in the vase. The therapist asked, “What is that?”

“That,” said the young man, “is where the light shines through.”


Perhaps this feeling of wanting some kind of release and repose is really more indicative of having forgotten that the cracks and chinks in my vase—or the dust and gouges on my slate—are really the places where the light shines through.

In a world that sees only the cracks and not the light, though, that presents its own special challenge. Namely that I have allowed myself to believe others when they tell me I am nothing but a worthless, cracked vase.

So, again, I ask: How does one reach a place of rest and repose without cashing it all in? How does one deafen the roar of the cynics and the critics and the dismissive and let the light shine through?

Because right now, I feel like I’m just six feet under pushing up daisies and I want my money back, dammit!


Cele said...

Interesting and provacative post Tewkes.

I remember my mother telling me just a day or two before my grandfather had passed, he'd said he was tired and he just wanted it done. He was 95, I think he'd had a lot of right to be tired.

At 51 I have those moments. I am a firm believer of an afterlife, it's what I have been taught all my life. It cost me nothing to believe, it gives me hope that this isn't all futile, it gives me hope that I can become something more. And if I'm wrong it cost me nothing to believe in that as well. But there are moments I am just that tired. And yet there is so much before me to do, and is 45 years long enough to accomplish it all?

I am thinking of taking up yoga, getting back into meditation, and I've never given up on prayer. Some how it makes the bad days easier to trudge through.

Good luck my friend.

hm-uk said...

Hey Tewkesie,
Nicely stated position - the certainty of our mortality and the uncertainty beyond this state is the price we pay for being self-aware. It still doesn't make it any easier to figure out what to do with that information and what belief to subscribe to. I like what Cele said:
"It cost me nothing to believe, it gives me hope..." The genius comic, Harry Hill said something similar when asked if he believed in god: "Why not? If there's nothing then it won't matter because I'll be dead, and if there is then my quid's in!"

Personally, it's better for me to not believe in god, a higher power and life after death. It somehow keeps me a more 'honest' person but that's just the way I 'see' things.

As for wanting to 'check out' of life for a while, you can do that without having to perform the Big 'S'. You just tell people you're going on a sabbatical for a while. It depends on how MUCH you want to leave behind but you can just up and move to a collective farm or something and work for your room and board. Mind you, the financial security isn't the greatest when you up-sticks and it sort of sets your retirement plan back a decade or so. Plus, the ties of a family (pets and partner) get into your bones.

Good luck. You're sensible and highly intelligent. It won't take you long to find your feet again, I'm sure.

Anonymous said...

I have a few tricks up my sleeve when I feel like checking out:

Watch my favorite video for the 100th time.

Get drunk with a girlfriend.

Take a long walk in a pretty place.

Listen to a CD that sounds best when turned up at full volume.

Call the therapist.

Go to sleep.

Clean house like a maniac.

Write a really long post on my blog and then erase it.

- Phoebe

J.M. Tewkesbury said...

Cele: I like your attitude, namely that it costs you nothing to believe in more than just death after death. I'm holding onto that and hoping that I'll still have a chance to do something professionally that makes a difference in life and that I love again.

HM: No desire to engage in the Big 'S'. Perhaps a better way of putting it would be to say, it would be nice to press the pause button on life's remote control and have everything--including myself--freeze for a bit. As for your beliefs, I like and respect them a great deal. I wish I could reach a similar place.

Phoebe: I've done all of those except get drunk with a friend. They've all worked. Maybe I should give the drinking one a try, too. Might be a nice diversion.

Sister Mary Lisa said...

This post was very touching, Tewkes.

Thanks for sharing this.

J.M. Tewkesbury said...

SML: I miss you! I keep hoping to catch you on IM, but I guess we keep missing each other. Thanks for the compliments. Hope you're well and that Chewie is healing nicely. xoxo

Sister Mary Lisa said...

Hiya Tewkes! I keep forgetting to turn on Skype...I'm on Yahoo most of the time..

Anyway. Chewie is recovering well, he is now chasing his tail in tight circles every time we open his food container to feed him, which is a sure sign he's feeling much better. And he keeps roosting on the back of the couch as before, damn his little hide. He thinks he's all better and won't not jump up there and down from there when we're gone. Sigh.

I need to post a follow-up post, just haven't found the time. Soccer season ends soon, and that should help some.

Miss you too!


J.M. Tewkesbury said...

SML: I'm glad to hear Chewie is healing. My parents' dachshund, Toast, has back problems, too, and has had the whole steroid treatment as well. And try as we might not to encourage the game of "Where's Your Ball?" (aka "fetch") he persists in insisting that he must play. I figure, he's happier doing what will potentially hurt him in the end than laying around not doing what comes naturally to him. Still, I try not to throw the ball as far as I use to.

Must run. Eye appointment. But we'll catch up soon!