August 18, 2004
Mortal thoughts

While I was away I missed Lynn's announcement of her father's death. By the time I got back the funeral had already occurred; she describes it here. It was not a surprise, certainly, but it must have been difficult nonetheless. So I send my extremely belated condolences.

I was thinking about death on my vacation, actually. I mean, not constantly -- it was a great vacation, really! But I kind of got the shivers when we arrived at the house near Portland where we stayed the first two nights, which belongs to my great-uncle and his wife. When I was four years old we visited my great-grandparents, who also lived in the Portland area. The next year my great-grandmother was dead from breast cancer. It was, really, my first experience of death, and I remember I was greatly distressed by it. The fact that I'd only visited her once didn't make a lot of difference. When you've been alive for that short a time, you haven't seen that much of anybody! But even at that age, I had that instinctive human sense of family. She was my great-grandmother. She was part of the order of my life that, at that age, seems eternal. But then that order was ruptured.

My great-uncle's house really brought back the visit to my great-grandparents' all those years ago. I was so young that I don't exactly have memories of it -- when I think back to that age I have trouble sorting out memories from fantasies and dreams. They all seem to be made of the same mythic fabric. But there was something about the look of the house, the age of it, the lighting, that seemed to give substance to those increasingly ghostly images. My mother thinks that perhaps we visited that house on the same trip, and my mind is blurring together the homes of the various elderly relations we saw. But either way, it was like walking into the scene of a recurring dream, and reminded me that my archetypal great-grandma really existed and really died.

I remember a dream I had not long after that, which my mother also remembers me telling her about, that a kitten we had just adopted had grown old and ill and her fur fell out whenever we touched her. I suppose I was beginning to realize the universality of death -- even our new young kitten would one day grow old and die, just as my great-grandmother had. All this came on the heels of an even greater disruption in my life, when my family had moved from Pennsylvania to California. It may be the hardest thing to learn, this transience of life, because something in us from birth seems to crave the eternal. What can we rely upon, what can we trust in this world of constant change? Belief in God seems to help many people in that regard, although some say it can make it more difficult because they have to find a way to go on trusting him even as such things happen. It makes me wonder what I want to believe, wonder what I can believe, in the midst of it all.

Posted by Camassia at August 18, 2004 02:26 PM | TrackBack
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