Santayana said, “Only the dead have seen the end of the war.” We have grown adept at wars, no longer global in scope, but ubiquitous in frequency.
Mine was fought in the rice paddies of Vietnam, and on the campus where we struggled valiantly and vainly to protest, and when that failed, in the heat of Texas, marching about, going thankfully nowhere, shipped to Niagara Falls when the Air Force could think of nothing better to do with the likes of me.
I didn’t die, know several who did and sadly know Santayana was right for Bierce said it best, “In international affairs, a period of cheating between two periods of fighting.”
I remember the afternoon was cold and damp, with a persistent drizzle that escaped the clustered umbrellas, the sky a blanket slowly shedding the water that soaked it as it sat out on the clothesline.
I suspect you would have liked it this way, everyone in attendance, everyone shuffling their feet, wanting to look skyward, knowing they would see only a dome of black umbrella domes.
I recited the necessary prayers, kept a reasonable pacing despite the looks of many urging me to abridge the service, but the rain didn’t care about their wishes and I knew you wouldn’t so I carried on to the conclusion.
As they lowered your coffin into the puddled grave, I imagined you laughing, knowing in the end you had this day gotten the last one.
The end is coming. That is the inescapable result of a beginning. We don’t like that but we are powerless to do anything about it. We can dread it, but it will do no good. Or we can posit that every ending is followed by a beginning. That may give us temporary comfort. But perhaps we should ask the ultimate question: What was there before the first beginning. Listen for the sound of the Big Bang before you answer.
Perhaps it is just that I do not have a mantle on which to place the cherished artifacts of my life, my parents and grandparents photos, a family Tanach, the tallis my first adoptive father wore to his Bar Mitzvah.
I have nothing, which this day seems sadly appropriate, for their history really is not mine, never was, I simply borrowed it for a time but all loans must end for that is their nature.
I have a photo of her gravestone the worman who bore me, of her in her college yearbook, of him in a group shot of his unit, in uniform but I still have no mantle and so little to place there if i ever did have one.
I have had two, although the first is long forgotten, so perhaps it no longer counts, it certainly didn’t to her, announcing its end like the conductor of a train running late on the mainline to sadness.
Perhaps I have not forgotten but all I see is myself standing alone, intoning words to which the crowd intently listens, much like the audience at a reading by a lesser known poet, feigned polite awareness.
I’ll just say I’ve had one for it is easier that way on all three parties.
There is an art to creating a mix tape, more so to day, when tape is usually only found in museums and antique stores.
Then you chose carefully aware of the sonics, aware of the limits on time, weaving a musical tapestry.
You can do a mix CD but everyone knows that with tape you listened all the way through, for fast forward was only for getting to the end of the cassette to play the B-side, and CD’s have no B sides to play.
Many say that the end of the world is upon us, that we will all be replaced by electronics, but of that I have no fear, for electronics may claim to be smarter than we are, but if you’ve ever tried to interconnect or network them, you know that half of the time they will fail miserably and even in those rare cases where they work initially they will soon enough fail.
So I think I will live on, keep pad and pen at hand, and just for safety sake, a box of candles and matches.
In the interstitial moment between birth and death a universe comes into existence, something that never before existed and existed always, new and well-known, unseen and visible for eternity.
Measure it well for it is incapable of measurement, and ends without warning and precisely on schedule. In the momentary breath that marks the transit, we proceed nowhere and cannot return to where we began.