Sunday, August 1, 2010

Remains of the day

I just watched The Watchmen. Didn't catch it at the movies. Wow, dark dark dark dystopia. With a glowing blue god-like man and deeply ruthless disenfranchised super heroes.

The blue guy, John, gets zen about things while he hangs out on Mars making big glass timepices, and mentions that at an atomic level, a dead body and a living body are equally complex. He has a point.

This got me thinking about all the many ways people weigh the significance of both living and dead bodies.  Religions and governments make efforts to shape the choices people make about their bodies when alive. And in death, the government has its set of rules about how the corpse must be disposed and religions enact their rituals. Both offer comfort, or at least hygiene, to the living and religion offers hopes for an afterlife. Religions embrace the soul, something that has no atomic weight but is earnestly believed in.

When my grandmother Florence died, all these choices about atoms, about souls and bodies, came into play in the pleasant, flower and photo filled parlor of the midwestern funeral home. A cousin looked around and saw no coffin. He was perplexed. He wanted to know where grandma was. My Unitarian parents brought him over to an urn sitting next to candles and framed photos of what Florence had looked like a few years ago, before cremation. A look of horror tightened his jaw and he turned pale with rage. I realized he was of the belief that the body was still needed, that at some future date Grandma, or rather Jesus, would reanimate her corpse with her soul. Converting some of her atoms to energy and removing the H2O from the rest was not his idea of appropriate. I inevitably think of zombies with this scenario but I said nothing, he said nothing. Because even when beliefs clash, good manners still rule, if you are lucky.

I, too, am used to the convention of a coffin. Something approximately the size of a single bed. It is big. It says I am full of someone you loved. An urn, it is so tiny, it is hard to think of someone fitting into something smaller than a shoebox. But over time, the long long time of eons, our remains disappear. Or rather, the atoms go back into general use. Cremation just speeds it up.

We buried the urn. And even then, there was plenty of space in that small plot. We wrote our memories on pieces of paper and buried them with her too. Memories and love can be said to have weight, as much as a brain or heart has weight, but feelings are like ghosts in the clockwork, even the blue man on Mars decided that messy life held more value than pristine mechanical lifelessness. As for the cousin, only the second coming will prove him right. But his is only one belief system.

No comments: