Sunday, May 17, 2015

Memento Mori (It's not just an excellent book by Muriel Spark, you know)

It's been a weekend heavy on the death so what is there to do but write a blogger update, featuring photos of happier things.

My father died back in August, but his house hasn't yet been cleared out. Yesterday a couple of my brothers, my grand-niece, and I spent some hours sorting through some things, photographing things people might conceivably want, and--in my case--doing some cleaning in the kitchen. Being me, I berated myself for not having been better about cleaning things there while he was alive and also wondering what he was thinking when he bought packages of a thousand coffee filters or put cold cuts into the freezer. One of the Chick-tract-like items I treasure is a little card featuring a hearse with the words, "You may tie your shoes in the morning, but the undertaker may untie them at night." So, looking at a free 2014 calendar from the Veterans of Foreign Wars my father had taped to the wall makes me wonder what sort of thoughts my father, not a young man nor in the finest of health, may have been thinking when he put it up some fifteen months ago.
A few hours ago I learned on Facebook that climber Dean Potter died this weekend. Katie Ives had a lovely tribute to a man whom she'd known as a friend. His is a name I've known for years but I've not had any firsthand experience of Dean; from Katie's post it seems like he was a very nice person. That he died doing illegal BASE climbing in Yosemite will, I am sure, lead to many people observing he died doing what he loved and similar things. I'm not sure that will make it any easier for those who loved him. He didn't die alone: another jumper, by the name of Graham Hunt, also smashed into the rocks. That the New York Times article refers to Mr Hunt as "the other man" somehow seems significant to me. "His name was Robert Paulson," I somehow want to say, or at least "His name was Graham Hunt." Deaths of princes and of nobodies, I might free-associate to add. I don't know.

 The most immediate death to prompt this self-indulgent little bit of blahdeblahblah was that of a tiny male American goldfinch. I imagine he had no name and I'm not sure of his age but the most likely cause of death was salmonellosis, to which goldfinches and pine siskins are particularly prone. I'd like to think it was old age, but it probably wasn't. I'd like to think he didn't pick it up in my yard, and it's possible enough that he didn't, but I have once more dutifully taken down the feeder to soak it in a bleach solution and to leave it down for a number of days. There are a lot of young fledges about this week which means that it's important that I remove a potential source of infection, but also that there are a lot of confused and unhappy birds flitting around the apricot tree, scratching their little bird heads and twittering, "But I know there were a bunch of sunflower chips here not half an hour ago!" The question of whether one is actually doing the birds a favor by putting out feeders is a vexing one, and I know I do it more for my own pleasure than for their convenience. How much the benefits balance with witnessing the slow unhappy death of little goldfinch, for they are so damned small in death, I don't know.

How much the joy of jumping off cliffs balances with the horror of sudden death is, I find, less perplexing. Immediate death, violent though it might be, for a human doing what he wants to do, is going to trouble me less than that of a small bird who can't grasp what is happening at all. The death of an old man who had good innings and who happened to be responsible for my existence is, possibly, again harder to analyze. Maybe death is more difficult for those who have to witness or clean up after it or maybe that's just my self-absorbed attitude this evening. Peace to you. Dean Potter, Graham Hunt, Ed Proudfoot, tiny goldfinch, and all the other "other beings" who didn't realize that this was their day.

 But hey! First cherries of the year at the market and surprise first raspberries of the year in the backyard. Because somehow the world keeps going. Don't look to me to decide whether that's a good or bad thing. Today, I'm thinking, it's just a thing.

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