Thursday, September 2, 2010

Putting the FUN in FUNerals

If I ever left teaching, I'd be a funeral director. I always thought I might have the potential to put the FUN in FUNeral (although perhaps newly grieving family members would not find it as humorous to watch me do the running man or go on and on about my arm flab in a self-deprecating manner.)

I'd make the funeral a big old celebration of the person's life. I'd have a dance floor. And a disco ball. People would get those little tiny containers of bubbles to blow. There would be life-sized cardboard cutouts of the deceased looking happy and having a good time. You may choose to get your picture taken with one of them, if you're not too busy dancing. There would be a photo booth. The coffin would double as the appetizer table so everyone had multiple opportunities to say goodbye to the body.  I'd put good food out, too. Those piggy wiggies, or whatever they're called. Blanketed tiny pork bits with sugary chewy bacon wrapped around them. A fancy toothpick.

There would be sad crying, and relief-crying, and crying from laughing so hard that tears come out. It would be hard to tell the difference.

I seriously considered becoming a mortician when I transitioned from retail manager to teacher, with a brief stop along the way to apply to become a St. Louis City Police officer. Here's the deal: I'm fascinated with the body (refer to multiple talks about poop or pimples that you may have had with me, or the many questions I've asked you after you've had surgery, gotten into an accident, or given birth.)

Look down at your body. Your arms. Your legs. Your feet and toes. If your shoes are off, give your toes a little wiggle. Do it again. You did that! You made that happen! Roll your head around- to the left. The right. Front and back. You did that, too! The eyes you're using right now to read this are in your head, and you can move those back and forth. Blink your lids. There. Again. Our bodies are the little containers of the "we" nobody ever sees. We use them to go where we want to go. Do what we want to do. Lift ourselves onto escalators or bend down to pick up dog poop. We laugh with them, Eat with them. Run with them. Make love with them. Give birth with them. If we're lucky, we grow old with them.

Then we leave them.

That's it.

Perhaps you think we just blink out, like the light on a tv screen. Maybe you believe we float up and see all of our long-lost friends and relatives. You might be of the mind that we come back and get to do it all again. Either way, what is known is that when you leave, you're not taking your body with you. It's staying. If I'm fascinated with live bodies, I'm even more fascinated with dead ones.

Now, don't go raising your little brows and picturing me with corpses throughout my house, posed in various states of relaxation: martini in hand, reading the NY Times, reclined on the sofa in a permanent nap, sprawled across an area rug, a St. Louis arch puzzle pieces scattered about. I'm not that creepy. Nor do you have to assume that I ever picture sitting in the movie theater, holding hands with a dead person. That's not the type of fascination I have, either.

It's just this- that body you have, the one you identify as "myself," will be left empty. Abandoned. Like a delicate cicada shell stuck to the side of a tree.

I may kneel a little too long at a coffin. I know this. I'm offering prayers, I'm thinking of those left behind. I'm praying for peace. And I'm looking at the body. This was my grandmother. I see the makeup that is unlike anything she would have worn in real life. This was my aunt. I'm looking at the hair that's sticking out of the ears and wondering if it will still grow after the burial. This was my friend. I'm grappling with the idea that this body is now an inanimate object, unable to do any of what it did just days before. This was my babysitter. I'm wondering who picked out the clothes and if the eyes are really sewn shut. This was my classmate. I wonder if they have socks and shoes on, or why bother. This was my friend's grandfather. I wonder who was the last person to kiss those lips. This was my friend's son. What were the last words heard with those ears? This was my childhood neighbor. I wonder. And I wonder. This will be me one day.

Tonight I look down at my body. I make it move. I hold my hand up in front of my face and watch my fingers wiggle. I touch my eyelids. My nose. My lips. I bend and curve my arms in wide sweeps that demonstrate my alive-ness.

That demonstrate my being alive.

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