Saturday, March 24, 2007

Night Watch

It's early Saturday morning and I can't sleep.

Nothing serious, no nightmare awakening, just sore muscles - I used something called an "electric hammer" to drill three three-inch diameter holes in some street pavement out in Beaverton Friday which was about as much fun as it sounds - and minor wakefulness. And a little too much thinking - I managed to depress myself with my Iraq post from yesterday, a little...

So I come downstairs, to websurf, write and think.

I'm so busy during the daylight hours: working, playing, husband- and fathering, planning for the future, remembering the past...there just doesn't seem to be time to just slow down and think about things. Wonder about the future. Marvel at the inanities of the present (imagine that after watching Tricky Dick Nixon take that last helicopter ride as a young man I'd live to see another president impeached for lying about a hummer...and a second not impeached for lying about a war...!) and just hunch idly in the dark, letting my mind do what it does when I'm not watching it; wander around peering into corners and collecting odd bits of this and that to turn over and speculate about.

This woolgathering circled around a conversation I had with my parents Friday morning - about cremation, of all things. They are at an age where they can see their own deaths. Not too close - I get no sense that they are withdrawing from life yet - but in the distance, like the first peak of a mountaintop on the horizon. They know that they're travelling there, that the aches and discomforts of age are already whispering "...not too long, now..." in the quiet of their own night wakings. It doesn't loom over them, white and cold. But the shape is clear and they know it will only get nearer.

They asked me if I had any strong feelings about what they should do with their bodies, and if I felt they should be buried or if buried, in some particular place. I told them I could not decide - their deaths, their bodies - but could speak only for myself. And that I couldn't imagine anything more poignant...more futile, than an untended grave, left behind by the descendants long-ago moved away, as in our rootless way we Americans so often do.

I thought - as I said this - that, mirable dictu, I am truly a domiciled Oregonian. I rode into Portland seventeen years ago this summer, in a rented truck full of furniture with the pre-Mommy (what we call my ex-wife) and pre-Mommy's brother. The longest I have lived anywhere...

Which is when I realized that in my last years I've been thinking of my future - of all my true wealth - as biological. The need I once had for a body of work, or some physical remnant - the 21st Century middle-class American version of a pyramid or a mansion or a temple - has changed, or fallen aside. I honestly don't care what happens after I go to my dirt nap. When I no longer need this body I will be beyond all concerns of place and form, so burn my husk, scatter it in the sea, plow it under and let it nourish kale.

The work of my hands will be in the minds and hearts of our children, and our children's children. If I can help them grow strong and good and loving, I will have built a monument to match the Great Pyramid of Khufu. If they remember me as a good man, then I will have all the immortality I need. There will be no death where my spirit lives in theirs.

So in a way, the future - my future - is curled warm and toddler-soft in his blankets, under an IKEA leaf, in his "big boy bed"...or is being laid down in a crib in an orphanage in Guangzhou...
And with that I can lay down quiet and go to sleep.

1 comment:

walternatives said...

Your Iraq post depressed me a bit, too, though of course it's not just the post, is it?
Truly, Chief, your writing is so rich, so visable; I've read the "woolgathering" paragraph 3x now. Lovely, poignant post. Your sleepless night is our gain.