Tag Archives: death

Strange and Marvelous Shiftings of Blame. Part the Second.

I wish my dad’s death had changed the effort he put into his relationships. With me or, really, any of his children.

Picking fights with him or my mom worked. Kind of. For me.

But you know. Before I started in on that- or if I didn’t fight, it wasn’t like he bothered.

And it’s not like any of the others are gay, so it wasn’t even that.

 

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Death runs Backwards- Empathy Gaps

Back. 

She’s finally crying now.

The “Joy of the Lord” that kept a smile plastered on her face till now- after now- has given way.  She goes into his room where he’s trapped, immobile, in his body. In his chair. His head balding and shorn. She sits with him and cries.

The cancer has rippled and warped his body too badly for him to live much longer.  Despite everything they did.  The special vitamin C treatments that they drove to Indiana for twice a week. The biological dentist who happily let them pay him to remove his root channel- to get out the ‘bacteria that caused his cancer’. And pay for a secondary excavation when the first had no effect.  The trip to bask in a hyperbaric chamber that supposedly simulated the environment before The Great Flood, when people lived 800 years at a whack because the Pre-Flood Earth was so perfect.

Ken Ham said so, you know. Those evil, ungoodly, evolution-believing cancer doctors didn’t believe- because they were deceived by the devil.  They were blinded from seeing that these things were the REAL medicine- far more effective than their worldly gobbledygook.

Except.

They weren’t.

And now not even the worldly doctors can keep him from dying.

 

Back

 

Sitting on the staircase with my flip phone. Others huddled, all around. Everyone crying.

I knew people died.  A seemingly unending stream of great-grandparents and withered great uncles had died over the course of my high school years. Hospitals, family gatherings, potato salad.

This was college. This was some one I actually knew.

Some one who you talked to every day- who made jokes and laughed at them himself and juiced wheat-grass. Someone who was going to live.

I was trying to explain.

“… they were out walking at night, and climbed up on the roof of a building, and there was an uncovered ventilation shaft….”

His friend had been climbing up behind him. They had gotten to the night quiet roof, with the city spread out around them.  A glowing life sized map of itself.

And he had disappeared. While his friend looked.  No sound.

His body was lying in a pile of ash several stories down, bleeding at the seams.

He’d spent the weekend before with a couple of friends and their young son.  He’d spent most of the trip tramping through the woods, teaching the kid how to whittle and cut walking sticks and be a mountain man. Now his fiance was weeping uncontrollably, rocking, brown banks of curls hiding her face. “He was going to be such a good father. He was going to be such a good father.”

I finished, and the silence on the other end makes me think I must not have explained well enough.  The terrible feelings of loss and tragedy.

Finally a voice crackled at the other end of the line. It was a lot like my mother’s. It was my mother’s. It was cold.

“He sounds stupid

 

Back

 

The family had many children. Was it eight? was it twelve? The blur of so many huge families- the only people we associated with -the blur of so many children.  So many faces. Meetings maybe one a month- maybe. Never enough time to get to know anyone.  

Not really.

I don’t remember.

They had many children.  There had been a party at one of the family homes- we had not gone- but many of the families we knew had.  All of them supersized groups- self gravitating, with self contained atmospheres- merged for the evening into a black hole of fake laughter and godliness.

The toddler had escaped. The sibling assigned to that toddler’s caretaking that evening- an girl in her early teens- had lost track of him in the crowded house.

The baby had escaped. Gotten out of the house. Toddled out onto the highway next to the house. Toddled across three lanes of traffic.

And been hit by a semi.

My mother sighed as she finished recounting the details of her phone conversation to the upturned faces and ears of her own many children.  

“But you know, all his hair started falling out a few months ago, and she didn’t know why. Maybe there was something really wrong with him and this was just God’s way of sparing them.”

Maybe it’s all for the best.”

 

End of the Endless

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My father died on Monday. He was buried on Friday. He had an aggressive cancer that he left untreated because “God told him” that he could heal it himself by taking extra Vitamin C and by giving himself enemas with coffee.

His dad had a similar cancer a few years ago.  He had a doctor advise him on treatment, instead of God. Grandpa is alive and cancer free to this day.

One time, before he got so bad, I argued with dad about his decision. The books and articles “God was using” to direct his treatment sounded distinctly like conspiracy theories to me. The conversation ended when he told me I was making him think he was crazy and roared at me to GET OUT.

Which I did.

I was very angry.

I was in the process of moving out already. Not because I had enough money.  I just couldn’t stand being home anymore. It was too crazy making.

Towards the end, when it was clear that he was going to die, he wept pretty frequently. About even little things. It’s possible the tumor was growing into his brain. It had started in his throat, after all. One day he wept and told me he was so sorry he had yelled at me- that day when we argued.

I was sad too. I didn’t give a flying fuck that he had yelled.

The evening after his death I went to see my family. The front room, where he had been all day every day for the past week, hallucinating and begging to be allowed to get up, had been cleaned.

The furniture had been brought back in. The hospital bed had disappeared.

The spring peeper frogs were singing in the ditches. A night wind was flowing through the fields around the house. Someone had set a jar of lilacs on the dresser. Words and phrases from a poem were eddying in the back of my head, but I couldn’t recall them all or fit them together.

The dresser is an antique. I believe it came from his mother. I never knew her. She died in a car wreck when my dad was- 19? Hit by a drunk driver.

He was angry at his dad about something then and moved out.

Dad was born in March- like me. His mother died in May.

The drunk died in the wreck.

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers…
What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow 
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock,
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.
                      Frisch weht der Wind
                      Der Heimat zu
                      Mein Irisch Kind,
                      Wo weilest du?
“You gave me hyacinths first a year ago;
“They called me the hyacinth girl.”
—Yet when we came back, late, from the Hyacinth garden,
Your arms full, and your hair wet, I could not
Speak, and my eyes failed, I was neither
Living nor dead, and I knew nothing,
Looking into the heart of light, the silence.
Oed’ und leer das Meer.

-T. S. Eliot, The Wasteland, The Burial of the Dead

The Garden and the Creature: Clay

He took a lump of clay, once

He rolled it in his hands

poked and twisted

He showed you.

this was called ‘a shape’

He pointed out on you

it has a leg, you have a leg

it has a leg, you have a leg

it has a joint, you have a joint

it has a head, you have a head

 

It’s like me!

 

Yes. Just exactly like you!

 

You made it!

 

Yes. Just like I made you.

 

You looked around, suspicious.

 

What else did you make?

 

Everything.

 

(He surely knows everything. He’s answered every question. The Serpent asks you questions, but he never tells you. Not like He does.)

(He’s kneeling to talk to you- like grownups do when you’re a baby and it’s so important)

 

His eyes are shining.

 

That’s right. Only I know everything. That’s why you have to do what I tell you. Only I can keep you safe. Hidden from… monsters. And lions!

If you disobey me, little one, it will make me sad. Very sad. Because you’ll die.

 

What’s ‘die’?

 

This.

 

The clay crumpled.

Spurted through His fingers as He closed His hand.

The Good Wife

She was on the phone, puttering around the kitchen and living room. Cleaning up.  People, kids, around.  Like always.

I was in the door to the mudroom, peeling off my boots. And the mud.

Dad was somewhere in the house, slowly dying.

They had waited too long. When it had been discovered, a surgery could have removed the cancer. ‘God had lead them’ to treat it with extra vitamins and by having a biological dentist dig out his root canal, and by going this one time to sit in a hyperbaric chamber because that’s what the atmosphere was like before the Flood of Noah and people lived hundreds and hundreds of years before the Flood so this would fix it for sure.

When the tumor on his neck was the size of a Florida grapefruit, or larger than both my fists, they decided it was a swollen lymph node. From his body killing so much cancer.  When it peeled itself open and started gushing and dribling fluids, that was his body expelling the cancer.

When he couldn’t turn his head without pain and his right arm and hand swelled with edema to twice their normal size from being pinched by the tumor- they finally broke down and went to a doctor.

But at that point it was too late. It was everywhere.

She was talking to a friend. I couldn’t tell which one. Her voice was animated and eerily enthused. She was talking about his now inevitable death.

“At least he’s had a wife who served him. Not many men can say that!”

She’s fixed him sandwiches whenever he told her. She treats what he says as God’s word for her life- finding reasons for him to be absolutely correct even when God express irrational fears about surgery and then nose dives into conspiracy theories and quack medicines.

And now he’s slowly dying.

Funny.

Many men have wives who are sad when they die.

 

 

 

 

The Fear of God

“… to call someone a Corinthian was really- well- it wasn’t a nice thing.”

I pulled the top off a new marker and continued to draw.  I’d been staying away from the the Church Bible Studies.  But  this one was at my parents house. All the people who had asked my family about me while I was gone were coming.  I had no real excuse that didn’t sound like obvious avoidance.

So I brought my sketchbook and some metallic markers and sat in a corner of the crowded room. This was what I had always done- I just hoped my expressions weren’t too expressive.  Pastor was talking about Corinthians.

“The church in Corinth was surrounded by horrible immorality.  Imagine if our church was plucked up and set down in the middle of San Francisco-  in the middle of…” he fumbled, looking for the words “-in the middle of a gay scene? Can you imagine how hard that would be? ”

Camouflaged as a person among people, I tried to imagine.

You must not MIX with the immoral, Pastor explained.  You could be around them at work, he granted, but you couldn’t join your life with theirs in any significant way.  The only result would be suffering.  Terrible suffering.

The Church meets  at a summer camp and it’s member’s living rooms because it doesn’t have a building.  Most of the families home school/ed and most of the girls wore long denim skirts up until a few years ago.  The youth were swept with a restless wind about that time. The girls started wearing long skirts made of not denim, along with über fashionable tops that showed their upper arms.

While they stayed home and waited for someone to marry them.  In their late twenties.

I wondered how the ‘adults’ would react if they suddenly were aware that that the immorality they had so studiously isolated their progeny from, and that they contemplated with such horror from half a nation away, was sitting in the room with them.

I focused on drawing. The line of the pen on the page. Focus. Focus.

Pastor went on.

“…Now, when we say ‘the fear of the Lord’, does that mean we sit around shaking with fear because God is going to come and get us?”

Que the explanation of how ‘the fear of the lord’ doesn’t mean abject terror but respect, I told myself, planning  to pat myself on the back for knowing the talking points so well.

“It only partly means that.”  I looked up in surprise.  I thought I knew this speech.  “It does partially mean that, because after all, we serve an awesome God. But it also means having respect for God…”

They’ve been upgrading their definitions while I was away.  It isn’t the definition of fear that’s changed necessarily. He did still mention the fear= respect thing.  It’s just the definition of awesome that’s changed.

Serving an ‘awesome’ person now means serving ‘a person so frightening that you would be immobilized with helplessness and terror at the thought of disagreeing with them, because they are going to show up and do horrible things to you in revenge”

I wonder if Rich Mullins knew that.

Awesome is no longer awesome.

The Pastor went on to talk about how  a true Christian must stand for one’s convictions even when surrounded by those who disagree with them.  Then he talked in a soft and tender voice about suffering.  Out of the corner of my eye I saw my mom move. He was saying this for her, I suspected. About her situation.

The point of life isn’t to be happy he said. The point of life is to obey. God. In whatever He wills for you.

They prayed.

The Bible Study ended.  I went to face/escape from a large gaggle of young women in long skirts and fashionable tops. In ecstatically happy voices that managed to sound prerecorded, they asked me how I was doing.

Closed in my sketchbook was a picture of a Hindu god. Stylized and glittering, the god’s arms and aura swirled around him.

“Now I am become Death- the Destroyer of Worlds”

 

 

 

 

the divine hero twins- second story

trigger warning: rape

It had not been an ordinary swan.  Its wings seemed to fill the sky, in the moment she had looked up and it had been coming down on her.  It’s weight was like a man, not like a bird, but she hadn’t gotten to look at it.  It’s beak clamped on the nape of her neck, threatening to twist and break bone, and pinned her face to the ground.

Lede had not given birth.  She had laid eggs- twin eggs.  She had wondered, shame burning her face, if the children would turn out to be birds. They weren’t.  When the time came, the eggs hatched, and the feet and hands of human children poked out, breaking the shells.

There were two children in each egg- a boy and a girl in each.  She named them Clytemnestra and Castor, and Helen and Polydeuces.  As the children grew, people started calling Polydeuces ‘Pollux’ for short.

Clytemnestra and Castor were ordinary children.  They even took after her husband, Tyndareus, in their looks.

It soon became clear that the children from the other egg, Helen and Pollux, took after their Sire, the Swan- and that the Swan must have been a god.

The golden light she had not been able to see in the eyes of the Swan, as she choked on mud and struggled for breath, burned in the childrens’ eyes. Music seemed to be hovering in the air around them, just out of the reach of hearing. And nothing could hurt them. They ran and laughed through life, untouched by suffering.

When they were old enough, Tyndareus gave the girls to a high ranking pair of brothers from another city- a matching set.

Helen found a man whose company she better enjoyed.  She ran off with him- apparently heedless of the thousands of lives that would be destroyed in the international chaos and collapse this desertion triggered.

Clytemnestra remained at the side of the man to whom she had been given, fulfilling her duties. She produced a male heir for him. He then publicly killed the daughter who had been born along the way.  The killing had been part of an obscure ritual, intended to help the war effort.  She was left to keep his estate in order and profitable while he was gone at the war.  Long years later, when he returned, he brought a girl-slave with him.  The slave was youngish and beautiful and intelligent, and without family to speak on her behalf.  Spoils of a fallen city.  Something he could entertain himself with in his old age.

Clytemnestra had her husband assassinated.

Her husband’s heir, the son she had given birth to, killed her in punishment for her crime.

The boys, Castor and Pollux, had not been sent away from home like the girls had.  Their father was alive and was the ruler of the city and the land around it. One day, they would rule, but until then, they had few responsibilities.  The boys took to cattle raiding and quarreling with their paternal cousins.  Polydeuces’ breezy confidence ran them in and out of trouble again, and they would laugh as they rode off.  They wore round skullcaps, and joked that these were pieces of eggshell.   What did they have to fear?  They were children of a god.  Perhaps even the god!

Staying with their sister Helen, they had been out on a raid the day she ran off.

One night, their luck turned against them in a dark and tangled forest.  They were separated, and Pollux found himself alone pursued by both cousins. The younger and smaller cousin caught him and they wrestled.  Lynceus was named for the Lynx that hunts and kills, solitary in the dark, but when their bodies parted, it was Lynceus who fell bleeding to the earth. Pollux stared at the fallen body. It didn’t move. He began to be afraid, although he didn’t know why.

At that moment, Idas crashed into the clearing.  His dead brother was laying on the ground between them and before Pollux knew what was happening, Idas’ hands had closed around his throat.  Idas was, perhaps, named after a mountain- the mountain where the god had once died and had also been born.  Pollux was choking, squirming against the ground and fighting for air.  Idas sneered and bore down on him harder- bringing all his great weight and power to bear.

A strange thing began to happen.  Pollux’s eyes, that had always shone, began to burn. They burned brighter and brighter.

There was a flare that lit the clearing.  Trees stood stark in front of their shadows- and then disappeared into sudden darkness.

Pollux pushed Idas’ body off of him.  The corpse reeked of burned flesh. And burned hair. And burned bone.  He lay for a moment, panting, then scrambled to his feet.  He ran through the woods, terrified of something he knew was happening and did not understand.

When he found Castor, Castor was lying in a pool of blood. Idas’ spear was pinning him to the ground. He grinned up at his brother, and tried to laugh.

Pollux dropped to his knees, then threw himself to the ground, holding his brother.

The two were never seen again after that night.  As years went by, between the shifting words of oracles and the murmur of the sea at night, a story slowly formed.  Pollux had called on the god, his father, as only a child of the gods is able to do.  The god had appeared, and offered to take him away, to the distant and eternal home of the gods. There, he would live forever, in splendor.

But Pollux hadn’t called on his father to ask to live in splendor forever.  He explained impatiently what he wanted.

Very well, the god answered.  There is a way that you can stay with him and not be parted.

For the rest of that age of the world, in memory of the Twins, the people of Leda’s city performed two different rituals. In one ritual, they would make a holocaust, honoring the Twins as they did the gods of the stars themselves: by burning a sacrificial victim.  In the other ritual, the people would pour out the blood of grapes, offering the Twins a libation as they did for the human dead, whose spirits sink through the earth to the netherworld.

The Twins had joined their lives into one.

They had become stars.  Because stars are sometimes are plunged into the darkness of the horizon, disappearing like the dead.  At other times, they shine in the heavens, where, it is said, the gods live.  They suffer both fates and are alive with both kinds of life.

the childrens’ teeth are set on edge

Ezekiel 18 The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “What do you people mean by quoting this proverb about the land of Israel:

“‘The parents eat sour grapes,
    and the children’s teeth are set on edge’?

3 “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, you will no longer quote this proverb in Israel. 4 For everyone belongs to me, the parent as well as the child—both alike belong to me. The one who sins is the one who will die.

“Why not?  He’s already said he’s going to kill us.” The newly made king Manasseh picked up the seal he’d been toying with, and looked over at Shebna.   “Nothing I do can make him happy now.  He’s angry with my father, not me.  I’m just the one who’s going to die for it.” He smiled bitterly.  “Or not die.  As the case may be. You all are the ones to whom he’s giving that privilege.  I’m going to be living in the lap of luxury- serving up my tender ass to the king of Babylon.” He put the seal down and looked up at the ceiling in mock rapture.  “Do you think he’s really as handsome as the images they make of him? I mean- the Assyrians had those stiff glossy beards that looked-”

Shebna could feel his face turning red.   He wasn’t young anymore and he hadn’t been for a long time. This was not to be tolerated.

“The House of David has sinned, Manasseh!   You didn’t win this kingdom for yourself- you inherited it.  You inherited its failures as well.  God is angry with us.  He will do as he pleases.  Your responsibility to your descendants and to your nation is to keep from angering Him further, and you-

“My descendants!?” Manasseh interrupted.  “By the Name- do you understand what a eunuch is?

“-you may convince him to relent.”

“And what can I possibly do that my father didn’t? My father-” his voice choked and he looked away.  His eyes were glistening.

“Hezekiah was a good king.  Maybe even a great one.  But he was not without his faults-”

“He was the greatest king we’ve ever had!  Even Isaiah thought so!”

“It is perfectly within His right to punish-”

“The violation of a rule that never existed?”

“He is within His right to do as He pleases!”  Shebna felt a twinge of long suppressed suspicion, even under his anger.  The priests had long said that they knew what the Lord required of His people.  That they had records.  But they never produced them.  He turned his irritation towards the young king.  “And it is not within your right to question! The Lord did great things, great and marvelous things, for your father’s sake.  He saved our nation-”

“So that he could destroy it himself!  How could He possibly let it be said that anyone but Him was allowed to touch His toys?  But that doesn’t mean He finds them amusing any longer. That doesn’t mean He isn’t going to throw them away.”

Manasseh put his head in his hands.

Shebna could feel his veins pulsing.  The shock was making his tongue feel woolen.

“Have you no fear of God?” He gasped.

“What has God left me to be afraid of, Shebna?  Tell me that!”

Shebna couldn’t answer.  The room was swimming around him.  When Manasseh looked up, Shebna thought he saw the face of a child.  A child who had played happily in the palace, spilling his ink and hiding behind him when ambassadors arrived and Hezekiah had to look stately.  Who had come running to him.

Manasseh caught him as he fell.  He lowered him gently to the floor, then ran to the door way, yelling.  He came running back, the tears he had forced down now flowing around his eyes.

Shebna kept trying to talk, as servants came and things were done frantically around them.

“Not like… idolaters… you are…  …sacrifice…  the king’s son… Hezekiah…”

Manasseh tried to shush him to get him to lay quiet, but the light was going out of the old man’s eyes.  The others kept trying long after Manasseh had sat back on his heels.

“You don’t want me to sacrifice my son to Baal for wealth and peace??” he asked the emptiness in Shebna’s eyes.  “But I’m just like my father.”

“How could I not?”

***

2 Kings 20:14 Then Isaiah the prophet went to King Hezekiah and asked, “What did those men say, and where did they come from?”

“From a distant land,” Hezekiah replied. “They came from Babylon.”

15 The prophet asked, “What did they see in your palace?”

“They saw everything in my palace,” Hezekiah said. “There is nothing among my treasures that I did not show them.”

16 Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Hear the word of the Lord: 17 The time will surely come when everything in your palace, and all that your predecessors have stored up until this day, will be carried off to Babylon. Nothing will be left, says the Lord. 18 And some of your descendants, your own flesh and blood who will be born to you, will be taken away, and they will become eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.”

19 “The word of the Lord you have spoken is good,” Hezekiah replied. For he thought, “Will there not be peace and security in my lifetime?”