Mortality in Friday’s Mail

The glossy cover announced proceedings I had missed, as is my wont when it comes to reunions. Yet I have a passing — or more than passing — slightly shamefaced curiosity about who’s in, who’s out. These reunion retrospectives always give you who’s doing what and who’s doing nothing, because deceased. Is it morbidity or gloating to ask where one is in the scheme of the living and the dead? I mean, once in a while to look back in line to see whose fallen out, and forward to see who’s going strong?

Something about getting to a certain age when the drop outs aren’t aberrations or accidents, when the common fate begins to impinge as a general fact and widespread (not as a bolt from the blue).
Thoughtlessly, I started thumbing from the back, looking at those graduation snaps from decades ago, faces exactly as I remembered them, all 22 and about to tackle the world, smartly dressed, smartly smiling, smartly prepared. I thumbed toward the living, but there were more pages than I expected, or wanted — I was still with the dead and dozens on dozens of them, and wanted out.

If the tiny reunion photos were to be believed, all were dead at about 23 — a mass grave, as it were, until the brain kicked in, and you looked for the date of departure, and wished, somehow, that the pic showed them in the prime of life or with their kids or casting for trout at 55 or 65, or happy baking pie for grand kids.

What was this mixture of reverence, sadness, surprise — a kind of chaos of time? It was as if I had entered an old New England Church on the village green, white steepled, and stood at the back silently, on a weekday, to enjoy the plain-spoken elegance of the interior — the sort of interior Thoreau knew when he brought his music box to play for his sister’s funeral. The silence was slowly and at first softly broken — was it a muffled organ or an out-of-place bag pipe? In any case, a procession dreamed into sight, as I thumbed in the dead. One by one caskets with classmates rolled in for this unexpected wooden reel, mallet blows in plush silence, unwanted, with no obvious way of escape — it would be disrespect just to leave, or slam the proceedings shut.

Thoreau used to write anonymous obituaries for towns folk who otherwise would pass unnoticed — I think as a form of practice for knowing the ubiquity of death and for knowing that no death should go unnoticed. Later the death of a leaf entranced him as much as its spring bud.

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3 comments on “Mortality in Friday’s Mail

  1. dmf says:

    ” We cannot understand why we have to die: all understanding stakes
    out and surveys a future. But death—our death, that of our friends—is
    the object of our most intense feelings. How unstable, how equivocal are
    those feelings! ”
    http://www.janushead.org/9-1/Lingis.pdf

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