Thursday, November 7, 2013

Death

First, a shameless plug.

I finally uploaded a collection of my stories and most "hit" blogs, accessible on the Amazon Kindle network.  If you have a Kindle and are interested in purchasing this literary effort, just search by author for Joe Pugnetti, or by title for "Short Stories and wurdsfromtheburbs".  It is priced to sell at 99 cents!!

Regular readers of my blog know that I read two monthly magazines, Smithsonian and National Geographic.  Not as well known is that I also subscribe to the Lapham's Quarterly.  It is a compilation magazine which devotes each edition to just one topic.  This month, the topic is Death.  (If you are interested in info on the magazine, here is a link).

http://www.laphamsquarterly.org/

So, of course, with Death already on my mind since the passing of my father late last year, the passing of my uncle in the summer, and the most recent passing of another uncle this past weekend, I have dived right into this edition.

Already, I have read poems and stories, both fiction and non-fiction, which span man's perception of death from the curious who look upon dying as the last and ultimate experience of life to the famous Dylan Thomas poem in which he exhorts us to "rage against the dying of the light". 

For me, I have considered death from multiple viewpoints during my lifetime.  Death to be used as a revenge against those who say they love me but don't show it, death as a backdrop for stories that attempt to teach a lesson about the brevity of life, death of loved ones which releases me from responsibilities, death as a harbinger of the truth of one's real mark on life which is measured by the accumulation of joy and happiness as opposed to material gain, the fear of death because I have not said all that I want or should have said, the longing for death to discover if my conclusions about life were on or off the mark.

My recent brushes with death, also inspire me to reevaluate the need for religion.  Well, not religion per se, but the comfort that certain beliefs about death can provide those left behind.  I generally laugh at the phrase, non-practicing blank, where the blank is filled in with the religion in which one is raised.  In my case, a non-practicing Catholic.  I am amused by this phrase because practicing is generally meant to infer that the person does not go to mass, or follow all of the tenets of the particular religion.  I would prefer that non-practicing refer to those people who claim a religion, yet do not practice the spirit of that religion; act in a non-Christian way, for example.  I actually like to think that I am a practicing Catholic in the way I treat others, in the following of the teachings of Christ, as opposed to the rules of the Church. 

But I digress.  What I meant to say is that with the passing of their husbands, my dear mother and aunt personify the spirit of their religion in their acceptance of death.  They are practicing their religion via mass, etc, but also live their lives as Christ taught.  Yes, they are deeply saddened by the loss of their respective mates, over 50 years in both cases, but they truly believe that their departed spouses are now with God in heaven, no longer suffering the pains of earthly life.  They truly believe in that basic tenet, that our mortal lives are a precursor to everlasting life with the creator.  It doesn't matter if it is true or not, it is real for them, and so they are comforted by that belief.  It makes me wonder if those who grieve so publicly and profoundly, especially those who claim a serious tie to any religion, really understand that their perception and reaction to death might be gauged by those looking in from the outside as an indication that their religion is not doing right by them, or that their perceived belief in that religion does not run very deep.

For me, I no longer think of my dad every day, as I did for many months after his passing.  But when I do, my eyes still fill with tears, wondering if I was a good son, wondering if he left this world with the same love for me that he felt when he fist looked upon me at birth.  I sob with the thought that I gave him grief as all children do, did not always respect his efforts to support his family both materially and emotionally.  I miss his smile and booming voice.  I see him in his glory at work, which I was lucky enough to experience as a child and young adult.  And, I wonder if my eventual passing will evoke the same emotion in those in my life now.

One of my favorite movies about death is Woody Allen's Love and Death.  His angst about this oh so serious subject permeates his movies, but none more so than this film.  If I were to compile a list of five people I would most like to have dinner with, Woody would most certainly be on this list.  Which makes me think that I might like to have just one more dinner with my dad.  Which makes me think that perhaps, I should be more appreciative of the meals I take with those in my life now.  And, not just the meals, but every waking experience I have with my children, my wife, my friends.

Which brings me to the counter culture philosophy of Ram Dass as expressed in his book Be Here Now.  I suppose it was considered "counter-culture" or the philosophy of the hippies, because the establishment saw the philosophy as justification for free sex and drug use.  And perhaps it did produce those activities, but what about its emphasis on the spiritual nature of our lives, the rejection of material possessions as the yardstick of a successful life, the idea that each individual moment should be lived to its fullest?

Perhaps, in the end, the comfort of a religious belief that allows the acceptance of death as the beginning of a new life, along with the perception that this life is more than just the accumulation of wealth, all filtered by the knowledge that each and every person we encounter, each and every day is the sum of our lives, and that in appreciating and loving those moments and those people is the best way to experience life, we are able, not only to fear death less, but to also live life more.

            

       



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