My cousin Mark died today and I feel compelled to write about him and how I feel. He was just a few years older than me, 57- I think, and he died of cancer that had spread within his body. Mercifully he only knew for a couple of weeks and, I’m told wasn’t in much pain even at the last. That’s comforting, I think, at least comforting to me. He was an extraordinary man, full of wit and wisdom, sarcasm and sweetness. He was one of the strongest, most persistent people I’m sure I’ll ever meet. You see when he was in his teens he began showing the signs of muscular dystrophy, and while the disease weakened his muscles he carried on his life – he lived and learned and loved and though he was in a wheel chair for decades he was fiercely independent and spent most of his adult life advocating for people with disabilities. This paragraph is not enough, no words will be enough, but I wanted you to know, I want you to know he was here on this earth, he was important.
As a sometimes confused and always questioning Christian, I don’t really know what happens when we die. My dad shared his thoughts a few days before his death: at birth we are in one place warm and familiar and then there is a great commotion and we are in another place distinctly different and death seems to be like that, we are in one familiar place and then a great commotion and now to another place. This is a comforting way for me to think of death, as a rationalist I know we are made of cells, and molecules and atoms, particles of dancing protons and electrons. When we die those things still exist in the universe but their purpose is changed, they break apart and reconfigure but are still here. The molecules of Mark’s last breath still float in the air repurposed, reclaimed but here among us just the same.
I watched a documentary awhile back about the Tibetan Book of the Dead. It was fascinating and illuminating. One scene I remember is at the bedside of a man who had just died. The tradition calls for prayers and chants to be sustained around the body for many hours (perhaps days?) to encourage the floating spirit to not be afraid and to not jump into the first living thing to pass in front of the suspended soul – in essence cheering the departed one to reach for a higher level existence in the cycle of reincarnation. Oddly today as I thought of Mark I thought why not try out the strong body of the grasshopper. Wouldn’t it be lovely for him to bound and leap with such strong legs? Besides a grasshopper lifespan is short – within the year he could leap his way into a flitting, flying sparrow and try that body for a while, there is much to learn from the little sparrows strong wings, I’m sure. Three years from then perhaps a wise old owl will suit Mark’s fancy, soaring above us all in the long cool night air. Or maybe a dolphins body would fit well, how playful and lithe he would be let loose from that heavy damn wheel chair.
So just incase, I put the cricket I found in my kitchen this afternoon gently outside and whispered in my cupped hands before I let it go – you’re free now JUMP!