Nobody can think globally, anymore than one can seriously imagine one’s own death. And so when Fukushima exploded three years ago and as our skies and oceans became laced with toxicity, none of it seemed as real as the trivialities of my life.
Basically, I tried not to think about what lay across the waters. And so even now, as we are being slowly radiated to death in what has become an obvious Extinction Level Event, our planetary fate remains abstract to ourselves: more important than the trivialities, of course, but not more real. And being human, I guess I’m not unusual in that way.
But as with the advance of old age and mortality in general, our creeping global megadeath is clearly an unshakeable fact that our timid hearts and minds must somehow encompass, before the ending. Even if there is no way out for any of us mammals and fishes, the fact will inevitably be confronted, one way or another.
Heroism leaps to mind, of course. “If we are to die, let it be like men”, or perhaps, “Somehow we must act, so that posterity will know that not all of us were complicit with the crime”. Of course, if we do indeed lack any chance of human posterity, perhaps that second quote doesn’t fit. But the sentiment is the right one.
Are we being punished for our enormous crimes? Absolutely, if punishment is tantamount to a simple logical consequence. Is some angry deity or unknowable agency engineering our demise as a big cosmic retribution for our naughtiness? I doubt it. That kind of pettiness seems only too human, and surely we’ve all had enough of projecting our own shadow.
A logical consequence. We rely on a deadly technology we never really understood, we use our garden earth as a dumping ground for all our unnatural waste, and we tear ourselves and each other to pieces, and yes, one day, it will all turn around and chew us up. It’s happening as we breathe, or more specifically, as we breathe in all those unseen, glowing plutonium atoms.
No sermon is intended. It’s probably too late for any of that, anyway, and besides, I’ve done enough funerals to know that it isn’t words that mourners need.
But since we’re on the subject, I’ve realized recently that much of what I have done for so many years has come down to being a eulogist at the funeral of my own culture; and now, it seems, of my own species.
Back in the old country, my ancestors called the practice “keening”, or the Caoinaimh, “the beautiful remembering”, which is what you’d do at the passing of a great Irish chieftain or bard: recount in song and story the tale of his life, to sum it up and encourage the hovering soul to pass on to the next world. The Remembering went on for three days, normally, while the relatives all got drunk.
In my sunny moments, I like to think that such is the fate of our people: simply, a passing on through a good remembering, amidst much revelry. But the Void tends to stare back at me, even in such moments, with its inscrutable question mark.
Here in the West, we don’t know anything about death and passing, except how to fear it. But the best moments for me have come at deathbeds and funerals, simply because the totality is suddenly there, as well as a deep and very sweet cherishing of every breath we the living can still draw.
After my blacklisting by the church, I was still on call at one Vancouver mortuary where the local manager knew of my troubles and didn’t mind. And knowing my precarious situation, the good fellow used to pass on to me as much work as he could, especially those funerals that none of the other clergy wanted to touch.
A lot of those were what’s called Public Trustee Funerals, where some poor sod in a rooming house or shitty hotel somewhere dies “intestate” and alone. Then just me and the manager and the solitary corpse would do the entire final service ourselves, as my words and the canned, sombre music and perhaps even a sympathetic remembrance somewhere would say goodbye to an entire life.
Those farewells felt like the most important ones I ever did, and not just because the abandoned guy in the box deserved some respect at his final passing. Something else was always present then that wasn’t around when the place was crammed full of people. I could feel that “something” as tangibly as my aching love for my own daughters, but it was just as enigmatic. It came and went. And it was everything.
I knew at those lonely moments that there is indeed a soul, and it reposes not in our brief mortal coils but throughout and beyond us, pointing always to that alone which is real.
Perhaps it’s the same way when an entire people die: none of the noise and bustle will matter, ultimately. Only that presence will matter; and through it, the real world.
My own piece of that big soul does assure me, now and then, that our present moment in history, like all moments, is just part of the road along which we are learning, or maybe just treading. Death hangs over us these days wherever we are, and is closing off our options quicker than we are allowed to realize: and the last people we should turn to are those who pretend they’re in charge.
For this is a reckoning time. And a time for the good remembering.