Coded white.

Thursday 22 March 2001


Pic of the day: The church was nicely decorated...

Dust to dust

So today was the day we buried my mother's body. I choose my words carefully, because the graveyard is not a cold and lonesome place where they shovel dirt into your face, or whatever the poetry claims. If all goes well, you're long gone before the factual words, the ominous words and the almost unbelievably hopeful words. (Of course, other religions have their own rituals and their own hopes. You will excuse me that I skip lightly over those on a day like this.)

The day was bright, only the lightest of clouds grazed the horizon. Above us the sky was so high and so blue. Despite the cold of the season, the noonday sun shed enough warmth to keep people from freezing for a few minutes. The church was well heated - so well, in fact, that my niece lost a pair of otherwise beautiful shoes. The soles melted on the low, long oven under the seats. And one of my small nephews got a nasty surprise for his fingers when he took the opportunity to crawl around on the floor. But apart from that, all went quite smoothly.

The church was nicely decorated. This time we were there on time. We had spent much time the evening before planning exactly where to sit. When we actually came, we scattered across the front rows on both sides. This was no big disaster, as it was a workday and the church was far from full.


The priest had the good grace to not hold a long sermon. He first said some trivial but nice facts about my mother. Then there were various greetings from family and friends, mostly family to be honest. Of course, in the society where she grew up and lived, the relatives were by and large also the friends. Those clans that were on friendly terms were usually also intermarried. This is all dissolving now, for better and for worse. I'd like to say that it's for better ... freedom is perhaps the highest good. But it's hard too. It takes a village to raise a child, and all that. But more about that if there comes a better time.

After the greetings and stuff, the priest tried to say something vaguely spiritual. Luckily he has a lot of fixed texts, but he also provided a kind of micro-sermon on his own. I noticed that he quoted King David, quite on his own accord, as an example.

Eventually we carried the coffin out to the grave, where the priest said something to this effect: "From the earth you have come. Earth you shall become. From Earth you shall rise again."


It's certain that our bodies come from the earth, well, and a bit of the sea I guess. The food we eat come from vegetables that grow in the earth, or animals that eat grass and stuff from the earth. OK, some fish, but it goes for the same. You get the point. The body belongs to the material world, and as I've said that's no shame. But seeing a so familiar body disappear back into the ground really brings the point home.

Unlike certain buddhist traditions, I don't dwell in my mind on the physical decomposition of the body. I'm aware that it happens, but I don't go into details. The end of the story however is clear enough: the human body returns to the closed circuit of our planet and is essentially recycled. This happens every day during our life too, but afterwards it's the only thing that happens. To put it that way.

The strange thing is the idea that some people may return from the dead. It probably seems less absurd to me because I view time as a dimension - I believe that everything that ever was, still is. We just can't access it from inside our own reality. Which is all for the best, right now. So resurrection remains a matter of faith. Indeed, it is the matter of faith for us christians.

It seems that to the human mind, it is more natural to believe that the soul lives on after death. I believe this stems from primitive man's experience that the deceased remain in dreams, talking to them long after the body is gone. To many tribes, dreams were real in a special sort of way. So it made sense to think that some intangible part of their parents and children lived on, occasionally visiting them from beyond. As a christian, I don't actively believe in this. Yes, we all live on in each other, albeit only as fragments. (And as you see, I really make a try to live on in you.) But I don't want to be immortal through my works. I want to be immortal through not dying. Or, failing that, resurrection.


Having witnessed the descent into the earth, we greeted the assembled guests. Condolences were passed, and we met again friends and relatives we rarely see. In particular, I rarely see them, since I live far from most of the clan. Some I recognized; most I vaguely remembered to have seen, but not who they were. A few I had no idea ever lived. God willing, we shall not meet again in such an occasion till I have forgotten them again. Of course, there may theoretically be other excuses, but I can't imagine any. My brothers are happily married (and their wives seem not too restless either) and no other life occasion is dramatic enough to draw both me and the elderly relatives and neighbors.

As it was, we went off to a nearby locale and ate a simple but tasty dinner and talked. No one was allowed to make speeches or do anything even remotely formal. My father enforced this ruthlessly, and we had a good time. After this, my father distributed flowers and food, pictures were taken, and we went each to our own. The children in particular had enjoyed themselves greatly, and this in turn cheered up the parents no end. As I had guessed, several of them made the connection: Life goes on, new life replaces old.

(And, in the Itland clan at least, the new life outnumbers the old rather dramatically. None of it my doing in the least, I may add, not that I have anything against it. There may be pretty near enough people on the planet, but all too few good people. If only a few of these could grow up to be remotely like my mother was, it would sure be a valuable contribution. Then again, it's sort of hard for me to convince y'all that it's anything more than the genes talking, right?)


One last episode of the day. Late in the evening, LilSiL (my younger sister-in-law) asked (for certain values of ask) me and her husband to come help clean out part of the barn they're building. We so did; but after not too long a while, I ran into problems. You see, I long ago had to leave the farm because I was allergic to both the hay and the "power fodder" of various grains and stuff. And now it turned out the barn was already so much in use that the dust was everywhere in the air. So eventually I had to resign from the task force.

"I should have remembered your allergies" said LilSiL afterwards. "I should not have gone at all, if I had known the barn was already so much in use." "I should have remembered that you are your mother's son, and would not say no when asked to help." Oh, but I am not just my mother's son. She never considered me an extension of herself, and neither do I. She would probably have carried on till she got severely ill, while I retreated with a running nose but still able to breathe. I guess I shall someday turn to dust and ashes, but I'm in no hurry. No hurry at all.

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