Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Food for Your Soil

"The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato. I do not mean the systematic scheme of thought which scholars have doubtfully extracted from his writings. I allude to the wealth of general ideas scattered through them." (A. N. Whitehead, Principia Mathematica)

             I kill green things. I see dead plants. They are everywhere, suffering leaves and stems in a perpetual death throw whenever I bring one into my house. They are constantly filling the space I exist within, but only for brief moments before their inevitable palm dive.  It seems it is my lot in life to destroy anything growing. You would think that I would have learned by now. I keep expecting my green thumb to "kick in" since both my parents, and most of my siblings, seem to have the knack it requires to garden and grow plants. I guess I'm the black weed of the family.
            Growing up, I did not have to bring my own plants into the home. My Mom kept a veritable forest of cactus, miniature trees and other houseplants in each room, creating a sanctuary of nature, her own indoor nursery. After I got older and moved out, I tried, desperately, to create my own natural space. No matter what plant I bought, or where I got it, it was not long for this world. I've considered that someone may have placed some pagan curse upon me, which maims and kills anything green I dare to touch. I suppose it's a good thing I stopped collecting frogs when I was 10. 
            I stopped trying to get anything to grow years ago. Like cut flowers, I tend to think of any greenery I bring into the house as temporary. Give me time, and sure enough, they all just wilt and die. This curse follows me everywhere. I've been planting and replanting at the cemetery for over 15 years. I gave up trying and just went with Lily of the Valley, a root plant that thrives in such conditions. Maybe they will grow in the front room?  I guess I'm a "verdurial killer". The grass is always browner on my side. I practice serial horticulture. I have the proverbial red thumb.  
            Each week, I bring fresh flowers and place them near a picture of my Mother, reserved for such a tradition. I've been doing so since she died. It's a struggle for most to make it a week in this plant trap. I buy two potted fuchsia to hang on the balcony each Mother's Day. It has been a challenge to keep them from dying too. I've tried morning glories crawling beneath, and all over, the trellis my sister gave me for Christmas. I've done catgrass and bluegrass, treats for my pussies. I had two tiny cuttings from one of my Mom's cacti, which I've already had to replace. The tomato plant, a birthday gift my Dad gives me by proxy from my Mom, has produced many different-sized tomatoes that one day, fully ripe, I hoped to feast upon. They always seem to turn to black on the vine.  I try and try to tend to the needs of these visitors, but they rarely stay through a season.
            There are countless flora I have lost along the way. If the ghosts of Christmas poinsettia could haunt, I would never dare to sleep. So many poor tiny petals, and grasses, and vibrant blooms, each one born but only for me to take to slaughter. I can't even count all the carnage my care has brought to these innocent victims of herbal abuse. It has always been this way. As far back as I can remember, nature has cringed when I pass her way. Like a death squad, I stand my next shot into the sunshine, simply readying them for their end. They are duped by my sincere attempts to fill my house with anything vegetative and they start to thrive, only to anticlimax, turning from plush to crushed, from green to shades of brown. For all my years, I have not one witness of my attempted maintenance. They have all met their maker. They perish at the whims of my duties, leaving buckets and pots and trays filled with soil. If dirt was ornamental, I would have a lovely garden.

"People are like dirt. They can either nourish you and help you grow as a person or they can stunt your growth and make you wilt and die." (Plato - Classical Greek Philosopher)

            Things aren't perfect in the kill zone, but they are better. Last season, many of the plants I welcomed into my home lasted longer than any others before. It was a tease, I am sure. I half expect to go out on my balcony one day only to find them all gone. I suspect that, if given the chance, each one would rather leap to their doom from the 16th floor than face cultivation at my hands. I should thank someone that my balcony is enclosed.  In my house, it sure ain't easy being green. I need someone to help me stop this killer of living. Just cut off my thumbs and be done with it.
            I've studied the very best horticultural sites on the Web. I've read book after book, praying I find the secret to keeping these sacrificial specimens alive long enough to figure out what I am doing wrong. I asked my Mother, a thousand times, for her secret. I have asked my Father why he thinks I am such a putz when it comes to harvesting long life from my victims. I have bothered so many garden shops with silly little questions that they should post my picture, rewarding me as "Moron of the Month." My ugly face glaring from each cash register, the words "do not serve this customer," a saving grace for their springtime stock. For all this borrowed knowledge, and all my common sense, I have never figured out what the solution is to my problem. Have I forgotten how to grow and tend and care for such things? Did I ever know? What the hell am I missing?

"Though the land be good, you cannot have an abundant crop without cultivation." (Plato, 428/427 - 348/347 BCE)

            People are a lot like plants. When you cultivate something properly, reaching for a highly developed state of perfection, a flawless or impeccable quality, there are many factors which will determine success. There are just as many factors which will determine any inevitable failure. Growth is a journey of patience and polish while lack of proper attention will wither away a promising life. It's all about the right ingredients. A mixture of this and that may help refine and culture any specimen, but the basics, like water and food, can also limit potential growth. It is all how you use them. There is a recipe for success and a recipe for failure. I guess you have to figure out which is which.
            I have to learn, I suppose, to cultivate plant life like I do my own life. When you stop trying to make a rose bush grow, suddenly it will do just that. Nature forgotten will always turn wild. Overfeeding and watering it, thinking this will speed up the process, only harms the entire body. You have to measure and discern what you let in. Even one wrong ingredient and nothing will grow. Most important, so I am told, is the soil.
Without good soil, nothing can take root.
Without food for the soil, nothing can grow strong.

"And what, Socrates, is the food of the soul?
Surely, I said, knowledge is the food of the soul."
(Plato - Aristocles, son of Ariston)







Wednesday, September 19, 2012


"Forty is the old age of youth; fifty the youth of old age."
(Victor Hugo, French Poet)

             I do not believe it is a stretch of the imagination to conclude that most people fear growing old. Ironically, I would hazard to guess this has more to do with dying than the complications that come with old age. As I sit mid-life, statistically at any rate, I occasionally drift off into my own future, assuming I have a future, that is. I try to picture what I will look like, what it will be like when I finally reach tomorrow. I wonder what I will carry from this place to that place, both in thinking and in character. Will time slowly shape me, making me wiser and gentler than the man I am today? Will life corrupt me, warping any of my current pessimism into something hard and unfeeling? Will I be happy when it comes to the end of my rope or will I dangle like some fool full of regret, remorse and sadness? I can't even fathom the constant buzz that must ring in our heads as death approaches, an impending signal of our final moment when we pass on into forever and leave this world behind.
            With rates of elder abuse, suicide, and abandonment on the rise in our culture, it should be scary to think of growing old. While our life expectancy rises with the medical marvels of a modern age, so too do the incidences of fraud, poverty and isolation people 65 years or more must face as a new reality to their experience. We tend to forget the aged, or we ignore them. We even take advantage of them. It was not always this way. In the not so distant past, "senior citizens" were revered in most cultures. The Japanese and Chinese are the strongest examples of how reverence for the elderly was an expectation, not merely a cultural norm. It was tradition to respect, honour and appreciate the oldest family members. Times they are a-changing.
            It appears these old ways are no longer the way, even in the Asian cultures that once held the greatest esteem towards the elderly. Recently, China was forced to propose an amendment to their already existing elderly rights laws that would require adult children to visit their aging parents. The suicide rates among the elderly have "tripled in the massive Asian nation between 2002 and 2009." This "aged visitation mandate" would allow elderly parents to sue their children for visible lack of care and, in forcing visitation, they believe this will curb the rise in suicide rates among the aged.
            Modern day seniors are disenfranchised by our society. Despite being a strong economic and political force, we ridicule them, believing they cannot contribute to our culture. They are our culture, having paved the road we all travel on. Yet we treat them like they have no place in it whatsoever, and no value to bring to the journey. As the baby boomer generation passes into their retirement years, one would imagine that younger demographics would recognize the socio-economic power these statistical realities contain. Regardless of the numbers, we just don't seem to care. While we center our lives on a youth-oriented culture, they sit in their homes longing to feel useful. Apparently, we have little use for them.  
            There are, of course, exemptions to every rule. Well-established and financially secure segments of the same age bracket may not experience the same discrimination due to their larger than average disposable income. It is just logical that senior citizens with an unlimited cash flow get better health care and are more active socially. Sometimes it is all about money. Like the homeless, the aged are invisible to the general population. We choose not see them because they act as a mirror to our own mortality. We forget that we would not have gotten to where we are as a civilization without them.

"A man's character never changes radically from youth to old age. What happens is that circumstances bring out characteristics which have not been obvious to the superficial observer." (Hesketh Pearson, British Actor)

            My Dad turned 74 this past May. With little more than two years since the death of his wife of 50 years, he carries on each day, weary but resolved. He really does not wish to be "here", stuck in limbo between this world and his waiting wife. I don't take it personally when he reveals such things to me. I understand longing and that kind of pain. Regardless, my Father trudges on, resilient in spite of the way his life has turned out to be. He wonders about his purpose, even though he has befriended me and helped me start healing from her loss. A few times a week he sits with my uncle, a longtime family member and friend, now ravaged by Alzheimer's. He tells me how much laughter fills the air on every visit and how this makes him feel like he is in some way helping my uncle through his journey. For all his years, Dad has trouble seeing any reason left in living.
            Over the past 16 months, he has managed to live up to the promise he made to my Mother, fixing up their home and leaving it in a good condition for their heirs apparent. Repaving the driveway, replacing all the windows and redecorating the entire basement have filled his days, an escape one might say. He built a brand new kitchen and bathroom, turning the vacant space beneath his living room into an apartment, with refreshed walls and brand new floors. It is an impressive thing to witness all his work. It has not gone unnoticed, all this striving and struggle. He may well have lain down and given up when my Mother died, but he has proven his fortitude and, in so doing, redefined my expectations of strength. Just to remain is a testament to his character. He may not see this as purpose, but the fact that he continues on should qualify him for a medal of valour. Every morning he gets up, puts on his shoes and keeps on walking.                 
            There are quite a few elderly folks who live in my apartment building. You see them in the lobby, downstairs in the garage; you even see them walking their little tiny dogs all about the neighbourhood. The Alexandrian, an 18-level building, in the heart of downtown Kitchener Ontario, used to be exclusive for seniors. A few of them remain in this place that, from what I understand, saw a much better day. Throughout the three years I have occupied my space, I have had the privilege of getting to know many of the "greys" who reside here. Each one brings their own special brand of survival skill, each one demonstrating that just because the end approaches, doesn't make living over.
            I've stopped keeping track of the old timers who have passed away in this building since my arrival.  There have been many. Last summer, after his newspapers built up for almost a week in the hallway, a strong smell began to ooze from my neighbour Bill's apartment. I had been friendly with him in the time we shared the 16th floor. He always greeted me with a friendly smile and polite conversation. In spite of his deafness, he came and went like any other. Sure, you could tell he was deaf from the way he spoke but it appeared irrelevant to him. He seemed to enjoy life. Every afternoon, he would blare music from his place. You always knew he was home from the rise in volume. Then, one weekday last June, the music disappeared. You knew, come Saturday, he was home; the smell hovering about his doorway revealed his fate.   
            For days, I thought he was vacationing or off to see family. On my way to get groceries that Saturday, I could not ignore the sweet but icky mingling of odours that I had never experienced before. The landlord found him in his kitchen and called the police. They wheeled him away on floating steel, no friends and no family in sight. Until I met his daughter a few weeks later, I didn't think he had anyone. It really bothered me that he died that way, all alone, death lingering, his life simply walking away.
            Every Tuesday morning, like clockwork, I head down to the basement level and do the laundry. I'm a stickler for schedules and not wasting my time. It's almost always the same, between two men, once a week. Two loads are pretty damn good. People, some old, some young, come and go as I wait for the wash, then dry and fold. I go out of my way to be friendly to the other tenants who use these facilities. For the most part, the majority of gatherers, during my duty, are women over 65. You get a few younger folks, here and there, we even have a compulsive cleaner who shows up every once in awhile to annoy me with his constant obsessive behaviour.
            At the end of 2010, I started having regular laundry visits, every Tuesday, with a grandmother in her mid-80s named Trudy. At first I thought her name was Truly, like the heroine from "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang." Then I thought it was Truvy, but I stood corrected yet again. Our friendship started slowly as we exchanged our history, sharing our loss and lives and the bitter sweetness of it all. Then we branched into theology, touching on issues and ideas I believed most seniors rebuked due to their conservative upbringing. We exchanged books and articles, some of which were heavily influenced by intellectual arguments rather than spiritual revelation. She seems to absorb it all, a visible hunger for answers that her long life had denied her. The passing of her husband, a few years before, had freed her to explore religion in a way that abnegated her during the 60 years plus she was married.  She is a fascinating woman.
            Trudy is inspirational. Although she stands less than 5 feet tall, her presence fills the room upon arrival. She seems full of life and her constant smile tends to authenticate this observation. Her grey hair and aging skin merely hide the woman that, I imagine, has always been. She keeps herself busy with grandkids and activities at the Anglican Church next door. Everyone loves her and will tell you so behind her back. More than eight decades and she is vibrant, showing no signs of slowing down. She strolls through her life with no particular goal and no set demands for productivity. It seems easy for her to just keep on walking, then walking some more.  

"A woman tells her doctor, 'I've got a bad back.' The doctor says, 'It's old age.' The woman says, 'I want a second opinion.' The doctor says: 'Okay - you're ugly as well." (Tommy Cooper, Welsh Comedian)

            My maternal grandparents spoiled it for me. Through their example, I was convinced all senior citizens held the same controlling and disapproving attitudes. They were miserable people, with no exaggeration. For most of my years, I only tolerated the aged, allowing them close enough to experience but not close enough to ever really understand. I feel like I've wasted so many opportunities and missed out on so much wisdom. All because I assumed getting older meant getting meaner. Thank God, I have put those foolish ways behind me.
            People over the age of 65 are just like people under the age of 65, despite being worse for the wear. They still want to feel useful. They still crave knowledge and experience. Yes, they die, sometimes all alone on their kitchen floor. It should go without saying; we really are all the same inside. We are all still learning, still moving through life, just trying to find our way. Your age only defines how much more crap you have to deal with. The greatest gift I have been given, as of late, is the chance to pay attention to those older than myself. It was always more of an option than chance, but one I refused to recognize. The example of someone from the twilight years may deliver more than you could ever have imagined or expected; oldies but goodies. All that wisdom, all that experience, miles and miles of the forgotten highway.

"'Rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the Lord." (Leviticus 19 32, NIV)










Tuesday, September 11, 2012


"Good morning, Worm your honour.
The crown will plainly show
The prisoner who now stands before you
Was caught red-handed showing feelings
Showing feelings of an almost human nature;
This will not do!"
(The Trial, Pink Floyd 1979)

            During his lifetime, Mahatma Gandhi considered converting from Hinduism, in which he was raised, to Christianity. He held a special place for Jesus in his thinking, favouring the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) and regularly quoting from it.  He believed that "if Christians would really live according to the teachings of Christ, as found in the Bible, all of India would be Christian."  He was sure that Christ's teachings could have acted as a remedy for the ills within the Indian social structure and the independence movement that he headed.
            As a young man practising Law in South Africa, Gandhi studied the Bible, especially the precepts of Jesus he found in the pages of the New Testament. During this time, he explored becoming Christian, and ventured to a small church in the locality of his law practise. When he tried to enter this 'House of God', he was rejected and forbidden to enter. Intent on attending worship there, a church elder met him at the entrance to the sanctuary and angrily revealed, "There's no room for kaffirs in this church. Get out of here or I'll have my assistants throw you down the steps."
            This incident greatly influenced Gandhi, who never again considered conversion to the Christian faith. Although he continued to adopt Jesus' locutions, and apply them to his own ideals and didacticisms, he could not see past the followers of Christ who continually validated his conclusion that "there are thousands of men and women today who, though they may not have heard about the Bible or Jesus, have more faith and are more god fearing than Christians who know the Bible and who talk of its Ten Commandments..."

“I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ.” (Mahatma Gandhi)

             Anne Rice, best known for her series of books 'The Vampire Chronicles', including 'Interview with the Vampire', which was made into a feature film starring Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt in 1994, was raised Irish Catholic in New Orleans. Her strict Roman Catholic upbringing in the 1940s and 1950s greatly influenced her life until she "violently and totally" broke with the Church at the age of 18. Despite her new atheism, Rice continued to explore the faith she once held as valid. Her rejection of Christianity, and organized religion, left an imprint on her work and she "wrote many novels that, without [her] being aware of it, reflected [her] quest for meaning in a world without God."
            In 1998, she returned to the Catholic Church.  Her reversion preceded two separate but almost fatal medical complications, one arising from diabetes and the other from a surgical procedure. During this time, she devoted her life and her writing to Jesus. She announced in Newsweek, in October 2005, that she would use her life and talent "to glorify" her belief in God, although she did not renounce her earlier works. "In the moment of surrender, I let go of all the theological or social questions which had kept me from [God] for countless years. I simply let them go," she conveyed. 
            Years later, on July 29th of 2010, Rice announced on her Facebook profile that she was for once and for all abandoning Christianity. "For those who care, and I understand if you don’t: today I quit being a Christian. I’m out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being 'Christian' or to being part of Christianity. It’s simply impossible for me to 'belong' to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I’ve tried. I’ve failed. I’m an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else." Rice claimed to have made this decision "in the name of Christ," refusing to be anti-gay, anti-feminist. anti-artificial birth control, anti-Democrat, anti-secular humanism, anti-science, and anti-life. Claiming her faith in Christ to be central in her life, the conversion from "a pessimistic atheist lost in a world [she] didn't understand, to an optimistic believer in a universe created and sustained by a loving God is crucial to [her]." It was not Jesus she turned her back on but Christianity.

"Following Christ does not mean following His followers. Christ is infinitely more important than Christianity and always will be, no matter what Christianity is, has been or might become.” (Anne Rice)

            The week between Doug's death and his burial was the beginning of a monumental shift in my thinking regarding God, Jesus and religion in general. Three days after his suicide, on February 16th 1995, I was invited to stay over at his parents' home. With planning the funeral, writing the eulogy, and other related matters, it only made sense not to travel back and forth from Stratford and Strathroy, especially during the deep Ontario winter. So began my fall from Christianity.
            I was very much a hopeless wreck. That night, once the household had found rest, I sat alone, broken and silently crying out for help. I was watching a late night repeat of 100 Huntley Street, a conservative Christian television magazine program, consisting of feature stories and personal testimony to the greatness of Jesus. The 800-number I called had been flashing across the bottom of the screen since the show began airing. When the counsellor on the other end of the landline heard my story, and the way that Doug had died, she abruptly expressed her hope that in the 2-3 seconds Doug fell to the ground that he had time to repent and avoid damnation.  
            I was still deep in grief when, later that summer, on June 14th 1995, I called the same counselling line at 100 Huntley Street from my own home. At the time, I was intently studying the New Testament and had many questions regarding the exclusiveness of the Christian faith. Scriptures like John 14:6, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me," confused me, speaking more to electivism than God's compassion and love for mankind. The counsellor listened to what I had to say, without interruption, until I asked about all the Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and everyone outside of the Christian faith, who, according to scripture, would be sent to hell and internal damnation for not believing in Christ. "Without Jesus," she urged, "without being saved and submitting your life to the risen Lord, not one will find the kingdom of Heaven."

"Of all the systems of religion that ever were invented, there is no more derogatory to the Almighty, more unedifying to man, more repugnant to reason, and more contradictory to itself than this thing called Christianity.” (Thomas Paine, American Writer)

            I had expressed my strong conviction that Christianity was a sham when my Father told me that I needed to "stop looking at Christians and start looking past them to the Christ." This is easier said than done. I stand firm on the notion that a person should have to act like a Christian before they can claim to be one. There is nothing more dangerous than a closed mind. We forget that Christianity, like all forms of spiritual expression, reveals not so much the truth about God but rather the truth about human beings. The greatest service to mankind any self-proclaimed Christian could do is to convert to true Christianity.
            The entire point of modern Christianity is that everyone from Desmond Tutu to Princess Diana deserves to be sent to hell. After all, before you can be saved, you have to be made worthy. Of all the religions, Christianity should manifest tolerance the most. Up to this point in history, however, it is the Christians who have been the most intolerant of others. Attending church and reading the Bible does not make you any more a Christian than going to McDonalds and ordering from the menu makes you a hamburger.
            In order to live the Christian life, it seems, one must be able to discriminate and hate, or so any conservative reading of the Bible would have you believe. Christianity should be about the development of the Kingdom of God, not the development of schools of religious thought, especially the kingdom of the Christians. The person who loves Christianity more than the Truth will love their sect and its teaching more than other people. Evangelicals profess that unless you are born-again, you are "considered a failure as a human being."

"If Jesus had been killed twenty years ago, Catholic school children would be wearing little electric chairs around their necks instead of crosses."
(Lenny Bruce, American Comedian)

             There are those who ferociously exclaim to have a personal relationship with Jesus. They claim to know that the Bible is the inerrant word of God. They go to church regularly, pray constantly, listen to Christian music, and place God the Father, Jesus His Only Begotten Son, and lest we forget the Holy Spirit, at the center of their daily lives. They seem to know more about hell than the Devil does. They quote Scripture off by heart. Yet somehow they are completely opposed to Jesus' radical teachings and the message He claimed as sent from above.
            Like a good human being, the literal Christian is in it for themselves. It is not what I can give to the kingdom but what I can get from it. Through favoritism, a fount of Blood, and the gift of the Holy Ghost, they are saved from eternal torture. Hell is for everyone else. Instead, they gain guarantees. They receive a crown of jewels for all their hard work.  They get a ringside seat in heaven, a "five-star luxury suite reserved for the righteous." Without these assurances, they would not love Him. So they thank Him and thank Him, over and over. All the while ignoring, even disdaining, his base teachings on peace, goodwill, and social justice.
            With a few choice words, and a change of heart, they claim to be saved above everyone else.  Some think they are warriors, who shall be raised at the End of Days and smite the sinners left below. In order to secure their position, they use the words of the Bible as if it was the Sabbath. They have forgotten the highway we all share. Instead, they believe they are granted access to a toll road, reserved only for those whom claim Christ died for them and them alone. They skip over the part of scripture where Jesus is in the Temple and His anger turned the tables. It seems to me they disregard His healing on the Sabbath and the message this criminal action revealed. They pile stones like grenades, more than willing to toss them at those who do not think like them or believe as they do. I guess it's a Christian "thing" to believe you are blessed, casting those stones from a vaulted place above us all.

'At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:2-7, NIV).







Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Once Removed

             Many people believe that it is a sign of weakness when striving to keep those who have gone before us with us. They believe that putting the dead behind them and moving on is a sign of strength and fortitude. I do not believe this for a moment. It takes a stronger person to keep the memory of someone who has died alive within, continuing the same relationship with them though once removed. People are stolen from us. The only way to have them live on is to keep loving them, just as you always have. Time passes and people die, but the love you have for them should live forever.
             I have often imagined the day of my own death. Not so much the way I die, or what happens to my mortal coil, rather I picture what I discover on the other side of living. I get past the light, having been there before, and step into someplace else, someplace I can only create in my mind's eye. I jump from here to there in a second, as if time has any bearing in eternity. It is not God who greets me first off. The devil does not stand before me cursing my sins and casting me into fire and suffering and punishment. Jesus, Buddha and Mohammed are nowhere to be found. Instead, I am greeted by the faces of those people I know that crossed this threshold first.
            My Mother, my first partner Doug, my Great-Grandfather, they are there waiting to welcome me into the glow of the unknown. I see glimpses of everyone I have ever known before, now gone. Each one is there, standing like a beacon, thanking me for allowing them to live in my heart and my mind. They do not ask me why I forgot them for I never really did. They know that every moment I shared with them, each point in my life that involved them, is fully remembered and embraced. They can see through my actions, not just words well placed, that I continued to share this life with them even though they were gone. People yap on, all the time, about how they believe in heaven and God's great mercy, but they bury the dead and place them aside, acting as if that's the end of it. For me, they will never end even though they are no longer with me in human form.
            Most faith structures challenge the idea of cessation of life. From the Christian approach, and eternal life in Heaven, to the Buddhist concept of Nirvana, through human history great men and women of faith have proclaimed there is, in fact, no death, simply transformation. Those less enlightened talk and talk about life after death, then run from the dead in order to survive without them. Once buried, human beings not only rot in the box but they fade from the mind. Granted, sometimes we do not have a choice and we have to move on through the pain. As with all things, this pain will also pass. Eventually, you have to make a choice. Do I go on, cherishing what once was, or do I shun it, putting it away so I do not have to feel or think or even remember? The latter, I believe, is a coward's way out. It's simpler for some to let go of the dead, and forget, than it is to carry on with them and remember.
            Grief can be a tremendous stress on those left behind. With death, we not only lose the person we loved but we often allow their essence to fade with the pain that we felt from their passing. It is true that, with all things, time makes it better. You get used to the void left by those once cherished in life and then they die a double death, not only in their physical form but in memory as well. The journey of grief tries to erase all the sorrow and regret experienced in the process. For many, they push such things out the door and lock it tight. Most of us just let it go naturally. For others, the death of a loved one only changes the relationship. They move from loving one in presence to loving them in absence.  Some get trapped inside the pain, unable to function. They live a life of denial, hoping it will all go away, and stay that way. Some cling to the deceased, hold to them, making them angels, or voices, or figures walking in the dim of night. Others simply wither, unable to go on without the person they have lost.
            Maintaining a relationship with someone who has died can be a fruitful endeavour. The relationship does change, for obvious reasons, but this does not automatically mean it ends. You can keep someone alive even if it is only in your heart and mind. When it comes down to it, no one really knows what happens after death anyway. For millennia, we have quilted guesswork regarding such matters into neat little theories. Most of these theories are nice ideas that make us feel safe. The truth is we don't have a clue what lies beyond. Just because scripture, or other sacred texts, outline an option does not make the option so. It does not exclude the possibility either. The Near-Death Experience itself seems to indicate that the immediate encounters we have during the death process are shaped by cultural factors. These encounters with life after death clearly demonstrate that nothing is clear-cut when it comes to the other side.    
            I understand why people run from pain. I even understand why an individual may have no other choice but to forget the past, including those who have gone from this reality. Being lost to this world does not automatically entail being lost. I believe they go on, just as every major religion on this planet teaches. So why do we kill them off when they are already dead? I see little difference between the two points of existence. Don't we communicate with an unseen God on this same level? Other than physical contact, there should be little change. Love only dies if you let it.
"I still talk to you
Whenever I'm alone
I hear you in my prayers
Feel you in the wind that blows.
I wonder how you are
What you're doing way up there
Are you laughing or are you crying
Cause you miss us all down here.
Only God knows when
You'll smile and take my hand
When I see you again"
(When I See You Again, Emerson Drive 2010)
             I have built very specific rituals, which I maintain, involving the dead that I know. I visit headstones on a regular basis. I keep pictures throughout my home. I display objects which belonged to the deceased, carefully placed about my living space. I talk to them, though never once has anyone replied in kind.  I try my best to keep them a part of my daily living, and each one has a place. I recognize "anniversaries", and holidays, placing cards or flowers as a sign that I do remember. I recall birthdays, and death days, noting not only the date of passing but the day within the month on which it occurred. Although Doug died on February 12th, I commemorate on the actual day of death, the second Sunday in the month itself. The last Thursday in the month of April is reserved as the day that my Mother died. I make the trip with flowers, to touch the wooden box that holds all that is left of her mortal remains. I acknowledge the actual date, April 29th, but for me the day of the event holds most meaning. It will always be that Thursday.
            Doug's mother often expresses her thanks that we have become friends over all these years. She often tells me how no one in her life, not one person, mentions or notes Doug, not even in passing. This isolates her memories of him, she feels all alone. It is good for her to have me to talk to. Shared grief in itself can be a greater comfort than any potted plant and kills the silence such isolation can bring. I don't think people realize the effect they have on those who continue to keep this kind of love alive. Sometimes it seems that it is easier for people to bury the dead than it is to keep them alive. In absence, they find relief because they no longer have to feel awkward or uncomfortable.
            For me, I think in different terms. My dead are part of the highway that I travel on. If I forget those gone before me, then they might as well have never been here. I don't turn them into angels, or demons. I don't worship their memory like some idol or symbol of faith. I think of them because they remain part of my life. I work to make it so. I cannot imagine never meeting my Mother again or Doug for that matter. This is something I hope I never have to experience. I see them all about me, sense them in my daily life and hold their memory as a passport to ensure I do see them again.
“You can shed tears that she is gone,
Or you can smile because she has lived.
You can close your eyes and pray that she'll come back,
Or you can open your eyes and see all she's left.
Your heart can be empty because you can't see her,
Or you can be full of the love you shared.
You can turn your back on tomorrow and live yesterday,
Or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday.
You can remember her only that she is gone,
Or you can cherish her memory and let it live on.
You can cry and close your mind,
Be empty and turn your back.
Or you can do what she'd want:
Smile, open your eyes, love and go on.”
(David Harkins, British Poet)