Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Six Feet and Under

“Enjoy today, the time you have now, for time cannot be found only lost.”
(Marty Rubin, American activist)

            The death of my first partner changed me. It still manages to shape my decisions and the way that I treat other human beings. His suicide, coupled with my attempted try, only convinced me more that life was not worth living. For a month or so after his demise, I plotted a way to escape the pain. The near-death experience I encountered on the night of my greatest endeavour did little to calm my fears and give me reason to want to remain. I was lost to the world, although mostly to myself. The last time I felt that yearning to end it all was four weeks to the day after Doug died. Rather than drinking the eight ounces of tequila that I carried with me, then plunging from nine stories up, I walked away with a new beginning. I realized how fruitless dying would be to my cause. A reason to live is hard to find at any time but permanent peace takes away any other option. As I tossed the bottle into a field and sojourned away from the scene, I made a decision to keep on going, if only for a small amount of time. I didn't know it then but walking away was the start for me. It was the first step in recognizing the importance of claiming each day and making each day. In the fraction of a moment that I decided to keep living, a world I did not know opened up for me. The idea of dying to escape drifted into nothingness and left me with a comfortable friend. Twenty years later and I don't regret my decision. Death itself turned over in my head. Rather than a way to avoid life, it has become a reward for this life. In a way, it was so mellifluent.
            I am no longer afraid to die, not that I ever would be. It is not that I don't question what is to come. It is not that I don't tremble at the thought of it. The idea of my own death just doesn't have a hold on me, not any more. Even when I wanted to die, I stood afraid of what would happen. I am, after all, bound to death physically. Nothing else remains. I am not scared to be dead. I don't even worry about what will come with my rest. In fact, my "sleep will be sweet." I believe that I have nothing to worry about. I may not know for sure but I trust that everything will work out in the long run. I still have enough faith to see me through. I may not be religious, I may not hold to the things I was taught as a child but I still cling to the assurances of my birth faith. The words and teachings of Jesus I have not cast aside. Above all others, it is the Christ that merits my approval regardless those who claim to literally follow Him. I may no longer be tied up in the doctrine and dogma that associates with Christianity but I remain His faithful servant. I choose the way that I walk. In the end, when it all comes down, I believe that anything good that happens in this life is from God. I am just not sure where all the negative comes from. I do know if there is anything nasty that happens in life, it has nothing to do with anything Holy. There will be arms waiting for me. In the end, when I close my eyes for the very last time, I believe I will find peace.
            I had been convinced that I found Jesus at an altar call when I was a teenager. I never really understood the experience or any of the other times when I signed that proverbial dotted line. Each time I gave myself away to Jesus, I found myself swimming in a new covenant. It was a difficult thing to worship something that really wasn't there. He never came to me and I have never experienced the Holy Ghost talked about in the Bible. The first time I really felt like I had seen something Holy was during my near-death experience. Somewhere in the mix of darkness surrounding me and light calling for me, two figures came into the bright. The one who stepped forward I knew all too well. The other one lingered on the edge of shadow before him. He was tall like Doug was. He was bearded like Doug was. I could not tell his face for lack of shine. I have always felt this figure was Jesus. It just makes sense. Most people are greeted in the tunnel by the icon of their culture. Some people see Buddha or Mohammed. Others simply float into the stream. There seems to be variables to the experience. Each of us will see what we imagine it to be. One is welcomed not by a stranger but by our own ideas of comfort and familiarity. There is great warmth in the encounter. I know that I was never afraid. This state has convinced me that there is nothing to fear. When I draw my last breath, I know exactly what lies waiting for me. When I exit stage left, I will know serenity, even if the entire experience runs only in my head. The contract I made at my birth will be made null and void by my death and all those dotted lines will disappear forever.

"I trip and stumble through this world
All my days are just a blur
My feet wander through the fields
But as always You reveal
When I lie down, I will not be afraid
When I lie down, my soul will breathe again
I will not fear sudden disaster
When I lie down, my sleep will be sweet"
(Sleep will be Sweet, Plumb 2015)

            Most people do not want the truth. They want a constant assurance that what they believe holds the correct answers to all their questions. The truth is we really don't know anything about being dead and all that it entails. There really is no truth, it's all guesswork and wishful thinking. I believe we are not supposed to know. I also believe that most people recognize this innate predisposition towards ignorance. We all realize we are holding on by a thread when we practice things like religion and spirituality. We may think we know. We may even convince others that we really do know. We don't. Death remains the one great mystery, the ultimate unknown. Even those who have returned after undergoing a near-death experience recognize the limitations within their encounter. We are bound by our humanity in every sense of the word. Life and death are filtered through our perspective and it is this perspective that will determine the makeup of our ideas on dying and the afterlife. We see what we have been conditioned to see. Anything that occurs beyond that will remain in the realm of "you actually have to die to get there." No one can tell you about the other side because no one has ever come back once they really and finally died. If you're alive to know this, then you did not really pass away, you simply took a trip and returned to tell your tale. If you still exist, you did not die.
            There are moments in this lifetime that never fade away. They cling to us,  whether for good or for bad or just because. Certainly we carry them with us, mostly as scars. No matter how hard one tries, it is almost impossible to forget them. They are always with us just waiting for an opportune time. They haunt us when we try to find some sleep at night and they linger like a lily in bloom. No matter how much time passes, they do not. They become a picture flashing in your face for only you to see. It is glimpses of yesterday during a little piece of today. If you're lucky, and I mean really lucky, those moments do not always sting. They linger in a better place. To have even one such moment, an ode to joy, is heaven itself. That which sings of pain will bring pain and that which sings of joy will bring joy. Sometimes even the worst thing that has happened to you can be the best thing that has happened to you.    

"Now that you're gone,
All that's left is a band of gold
All that's left of the dreams I hold
Is a band of gold and the memories of what love could be
If you were still here with me."
(Band of Gold, Freda Payne 1970)

            It was either that he jumped or the bitter February to which he exposed himself struck against him as he climbed the tower. It is quite possible that the temperature killed him as he crawled up the side of the silo. He dropped over 100 feet, landing on his back. The few seconds of terror he may have known ended quickly as he hit the ground. The deed was done on contact but his body had yet to freeze. For over 12 hours he laid in the snow, presented on the pavement like a fish stick. Come the dawn, he was more like a popsicle than some filet. When the police came to the door in the early morning, I had already guessed what had happened. I didn't know the details but that mattered little to me at the time. He just disappeared the night before, no note, no sign to indicate why and where. A shift worker at the flour mill discovered him in the early morning light.  I stood in shock when the police left me to linger. My father soon joined me and we headed up to the hospital to dance in the morgue. It wasn't really the morgue, just a back room containing a slab of silver and one very frozen dead body.
            I knew right away it was him so identifying his body just seemed redundant to me. Once the police became involved, there was little room for doubt. The formality before me was a silent trip. He laid there and I stood there, one last moment for one last time. I scanned over him like a metal detector. He looked almost normal from the neck down. His white runners and jeans fit him perfectly despite the ice. His pants had come undone at the zipper, a testament to the fall that he took. The white flannel over-shirt he wore posed a small Detroit Red Wings logo. It still rested in the upper right hand corner like it always did. He legs spread out flat. His left arm laid beside him while the right arm seemed to be reaching out into the ether. His head faced forward, frozen in place just like his arm. It was his eyes that immediately started to haunt me. Both were open wide and staring into the same invisible place. Each was coated in an opaque film, stark white and covering each eyeball completely. His hair was messed and miniature icicles had formed throughout his beard and dark wavy locks. Underneath his brow and about his shoulders was a puddle of him, frosted over like a pizza would be. It seemed like a halo of blood, it was the last thing I saw of him. The entire play goes on in my mind even 20 years later. I know that I walked away more prepared than ever to end it all.

"The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living."
(Marcus Tullius Cicero, Roman philosopher)

            Whether the remaining influence of Jesus or the experiences I have had with expiration dates, I do not fear death. Dying is another matter altogether. The process of crossing over that line does not trouble me, how I end up six feet under is my issue. I have great trepidation regarding just what will eventually end up killing me. I don't want to suffer. I just want to get it over with. I have a surety of sorts, an understanding that whatever comes, I am safe and sound. When I think on the road that brought me here, I am reminded in flashes. Some people see smiling faces. Some people see rainbows and lullabies. I see dead people. Through their death I am constantly reminded of the importance of today. Sometimes a person has more influence in death than they did in life. The glimpses of a frozen head that cross my mind are evidence to me that there is always hope, there is always faith and there are always unanswered questions.