"I'm going to speak my mind because I have nothing to lose."--S.I. Hayakawa

Saturday, December 13, 2008

in celebration....

Celebrating Elvis, Chickens, and Life

About four o’clock this morning, while I was lying in bed unable to sleep, my muse jumped up, grabbed my imagination, and the two of them ran amok. With all my defenses down, it was some time before I realized what they were doing as they scampered free and unfettered through my cranial catacombs. Even after I became aware of their shenanigans, I let them go, because I realized what a terrific idea they had.

By way of explanation, I need to tell you that death has been much on my mind lately. Death had insinuated itself into my small community and made off with people I cared about. A few days ago we gathered to say goodbye to them—to celebrate their lives, as is the preferred custom these days. Along with many others, I suspect, I’ve been considering my own mortality.

After our gathering and our goodbyes, a neighbor e-mailed me with thoughts about her own celebration of life. Lots of beer and sunshine, she asked, and the music of her preference. And, she demanded, it has to last well into the wee hours. I responded with my own preferences, which involved concertinas and zithers.

Coincidentally, another friend from across the continent e-mailed about some events in her life. After losing her much loved spouse, she followed up his funeral with two radical mastectomies. Then came a diagnosis of two tumors. She began to plan her own memorial celebration while she waited for her surgery. As with most well laid plans, reality didn’t exactly conform to her grand idea of a proper send-off.

The gifted vocalists she asked begged off, claiming their grief would prevent them from singing. Instead, the musically-challenged volunteered. Gourmet food was replaced with quirky appetizers. She planned a video to express her love and appreciation. Everything was done, and she was ready to “go softly into that good night.” Just one problem. The surgeon couldn’t find any tumors, and my friend is alive and well today.

I recalled an article in the newspaper a few years ago about a fellow with AIDS, who had been given a few short months to live. Being of a certain turn of mind, he and his friends planned his celebration of life. They held it in a gravel pit near his home, so the noise of the party wouldn’t wake the living. It was complete with ghostly and ghastly humor, a symbolic coffin with a symbolic headstone. A good time was had by all, including the guest of honor, who was alive and not-so-well. Five years later, thanks to the new AIDS drug cocktail, the fellow was still alive and enjoying life even more.

While all this was going through my mind, those two scalawags—muse and imagination—were trying their darndest to lure me out from under the warm covers and into the chill air on the loft, where I was to take dictation from them. I resisted, knowing full well there was no way I would ever forget what the two of them had dreamed up this time.

Their idea was this: we should have our very own celebrations of life—before we die. Just think of the possibilities. We can tell our friends and relatives how much we love them and what they have meant to us, though it probably is best not to tell Aunt Elsie that you’ve always hated her Swiss steak. We can choose the venue, and it doesn’t always have to be the usually accepted places for such. We can hug everyone, and I mean everyone. We can have Elvis sing, if we want.

We can even supervise our own obituaries, and have them with or without the wings of angels. A writer named Heather Lende from Haines has promised to write mine. That promise came about because of chickens. She’d written a column in the newspaper about operating a retirement home for laying hens past their prime, and her inability to make chicken and dumplings of them. That’s the one, I thought. I wrote, expressing my complete understanding and empathy, having been there myself.

Then I asked if she’d write my obituary, because that’s what she does for her local newspaper. Except, Heather goes beyond the usual guidelines for obituaries, and finds the essence of the person. Having written many obits myself, I envied her the freedom of that search. How’s she’s going to do this for me, I have no idea. We’ve never met, have never corresponded beyond that simple exchange of e-mails when she wrote that she would be honored to write my obit, and diplomatically hoped it wouldn’t be required soon.

We almost met this past spring. I’d mailed my registration for a weekend seminar of women in the wilderness classes, or “wild women” classes, as a friend put it. Alas, I was a day late and the enrollment was closed. I was doubly disappointed when she wrote about attending it. So close and yet so far. We would have bonded, I’m sure. Any two women who name their chickens and allow them to live out their lives free from the shadow stew pots, would bond with Super Glue.

But, back to the celebration of life before you die. I will admit there might be a couple drawbacks. I mean, after you say goodbye to everyone, maybe they will expect you to go, like company that has overstayed its welcome. Plus, you might not like the answer to the question we all ask, “Will anybody come to my funeral?”

In spite of those things, I still think the idea has great possibilities and hope it catches on. In the meantime, I reckon we should all just celebrate our own lives, each and every day.

Oh, I forgot to tell you why I was awake at four o’clock this morning. I had been up taking photos of the mountains, swaddled in new snow and bathed in moonlight. Yep, there was a full moon.


Dec. 12, 2008

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