Wednesday, February 02, 2005

(W)rites of Passage

A thought occurred to me today (well, some time ago, actually, but today's when the the thought returned to the front of my mind) -- if, prior to the time when I will shuffle off this mortal coil, I am still a blogger, I fondly hope that someone who hears about the event will leave a "comment" to that effect at my blog.

I mean ... haven't we all wondered? About what's happened to a friend from whom we haven't had e-mail for some time? It's true that the news often filters around the globe through one channel or another, but those channels aren't always reliable. And I'd certainly like to think that blogs can function as news-posts at the time of a final exit. I can recall one early blog-like site at which one of the regular members suddenly ceased to post -- and a day later we all knew through the kind concern of the only person who had been in RL contact with old "Unicorn" (I think that was her handle) that she had moved on to a Higher Server. I was glad to know.

While we are on the subject of final journeys -- a subject that will, no doubt, only become increasingly fascinating as the months/years wear on -- I often ask myself how to ensure that the physical elements of my body are returned to nature with a minimum of fuss. It really annoys me to think that I will not be around to manage the situation for myself. I would, for instance, absolutely abhor to be disposed of with any traditional rites -- I say this even though I don't believe in an afterlife and therefore realize that "I" won't be around to either like or dislike what happens to "me". But I've noticed that, especially in India, in the lack of any alternative rites/ceremonies, a body is treated by its relatives in whatever way the relatives deem fit, which usually means, within the tradition to which the relatives (rather than the deceased) belongs.

Not that I've attended so many funerals of eccentric free-thinkers or anything. And certainly, at least two of the only handful of death-rites I've attended, were supremely (and attractively) fuss-free -- but that was through the agency of the surviving family members, who knew and respected the rights of the deceased. In my case -- since I have no children and don't expect or want to be cared for by my siblings' children -- I would expect to die alone and to have made some sort of provision for my mortal remains, assuming it happened in some anticipatable way (i.e., assuming that it's not a gas-fire, terrorist attack or other such calamitous end).

Yes, yes -- I realize it's supposedly morbid to look directly at the EXIT sign that shines brightly in the theatres of all our minds
-- but I've always held that one doesn't seriously appreciate one's life at all, so long as one remains unconscious that it will, after all end. That would be like watching a film without realizing that the end-credits must eventually roll -- can you imagine that? It would seem endlessly boring -- and perhaps, that IS why so many people seem to find their own lives dull -- because they imagine they'll never end.

So! I consider it completely normal to think about and make what plans I can for the eventuality, despite being mildly irritated that I can't really ever know for sure when it'll happen. It's like being packed for a journey that might occur at any moment -- for years to come. Of course it would be equally annoying and distracting to know the exact time and date -- as many authors/myth-writers have pointed out through their various speculations.

Still and all ... if I could have my way, then what I'd REALLY like is to be recycled in the manner of the ancient Persians and also not-so-ancient Tibetans. I don't mean the Parsi system, which focuses specifically on vultures, and requires a sub-caste of funerary functionaries to handle the remains -- I mean I'd like to die out in some location where a hungry bear/tiger/shark could enjoy a meal and perhaps live to survive another month or two. It would be, in my opinion, an ideal end to a life which has taken much pleasure from the flesh of other living things. Being gnawed at by rats and worms really doesn't do it for me -- I'd like to be absorbed by something big and hunky, which would do the job quickly and not leave remains to be picked over centuries from now.

I would particularly favour polar bears, Sunderbans tigers and hammerhead sharks -- i.e., any time after I claim to be setting out on a trek to the North Pole, Bengal or across uncharted oceans, having recently amended my will, is when this blog should be checked for end-"comments"!


Anonymous said...

You're nuts! I mean, how does it matter what happens to your bag/what's done with it/how it's disposed off once you've left it? It doesn't belong to you, or does it? Will it belong to you once you've left it? How can something belong to a person that does not exist (you don't believe in the afterlife, you say)? Be magnanimous, dear, and let the 'dear ones' do with it as they please - they'll still be around and would want to feel good about what they did with 'it'.


Marginalien said...

Ha! Feistiness ...

It won't matter to ME after I've passed on, of course not. But we don't entirely cease to exist when we die. To the extent that we are also the memories that our friends/relatives maintain of us in our absence, we do continue. We are not merely our own private "bags" as you put it, we are also owned collectively by -- and own in return -- our friends/relatives. For instance, if, after a friend's death his/her relatives had him/her stuffed and mounted for display on the walls of their home I'd certainly be offended on behalf of the deceased. Wouldn't you? Okay, that's an extreme example -- but I think we can make the argument that it causes a curious slippage in reality if, to offer a less florid example, an atheist were to be given a religious disposal ceremony by friends/relatives who wished to score obscure post-mortem points. If that were to happen to a friend/relative of mine, I'd feel annoyed on behalf of him/her.

I'm booking my polar bear NOW!

Anonymous said...

The 'atheist' would be dead n gone and wouldn't have given a damn about the 'religious' farewell if 'it' was in a position not to, so why should the friend feel offended on 'its' behalf? I think people's conception of being alive and 'being dead' is completely misdirected...leading to fear of death n what happens after that n what will be done with the body etc. etc. I don't think we own anything in this world including our own bodies so what's all the hue and cry about?

Amrobilia said...

I suppose I'd love to be dumped onto/into a compost heap and become manure to a nice big tree! Never really thought about this, but now that you've made me, I don't think I really care one way or the other. I'd rather let those that remain behind do with it as they please (anonymous, above) and not worry about the remote possibility of some enemy doing something with the body to spite moi - how abs hidyoskus!


Anonymous said...

don’t we start dying the very instant that we start living? (i got that little jewel of wisdom when my 11 year old son – five years ago asked me – “daddy when do I start dying?)

regarding stuffing up the corpses – have you seen – very interesting business and a truly amazing exhibition that I visited recently in los angeles. highly recommended. i had the good fortune to have a pathologist accompany me (with whom I have performed several autopsies many moons ago ) and boy was it a revelation for both of us! a powerful depiction of that fuzzy line between science and art and it was there that the thought of having yours truly so stuffed was not at all distasteful!

as a biologist i can only inform you that once the body is dead it’s a decaying bag of proteins and so on – terribly prone to all sorts of horrifying bugs and bacteria and highly recommended that the earlier its decimated the better it is so as to prevent the creepy crawlies spreading. my own preference is thus chosen to represent the fastest possible demolish mode namely blast it at high temperatures and come out in an urn – ready to serve as a fertilizer to my favorite plant – a last tribute as I get higher! though I guess prompt disposal from a huge critter is probably a bit more nature friendly!

have you decided what color your clothes would be as you wheeze out the last sigh? also not having attended too many funerals myself, do check out check out . gt

Marginalien said...

Why -- no! Never thought about Final Fashions! Hmmm. I guess, since I pay very little attention to clothes and fashion while alive, I'd hardly have much interest in going out in style.

My concern is partly about how to manage a disposal without requiring the participation of other people. I believe most of the trauma of death is for the living -- because most people don't like to be faced with the corpse of someone they used to know. In Robert Heinlein's "Stranger in a Strange Land" the central character belongs to an alien culture which considers the eating of a departed friend/relative to be the height of affection -- the deceased literally becomes flesh of one's flesh ...

It's a kind of puzzle you know, like the reverse of a murder mystery -- how can a person who expects to die alone (i.e., without friends/family nearby) manage a body-disposal which doesn't require a great deal of time, effort and annoyance for others while also not requiring the using up of the world's scarce resources -- such as a burial site and/or fuel for burning/cremation? I like the idea of using only as much as I need while alive, and closing shop neatly, leaving very little behind.

It's a kind of aesthetics, I guess, Amro -- a desire to be neat.

Anonymous said...

nvCreuzfeld Jakob Disease (new variantCJD) - the human equivalent of mad cow disease - was first identified as kuru-kuru (though it is pathologically distinct from CJD) - in the Fore, a people found in the New Guinea highlands. Kuru was acquired during endocannibalistic funeral rituals that are no longer practiced; therefore, the disease is disappearing as well. During the late 1950s, when the disease was first described, it had an incidence of approximately 1 case per 100 residents. Kuru was spread by the endocannibalistic funeral practices of the Fore. Family members were ritualistically cooked and eaten following their death, with the closest female relatives and children usually consuming the brain, which was the most infectious organ. The women scooped the brain tissue out with their bare hands and did not subsequently wash them for weeks. During this time they were handling, caring for, and possibly infecting their young children. The effects on the Fore were devastating, wiping out whole villages at the height of the disease. {{ }} moral of the story ? Be careful whom you tell "eat your hearts out". gt

Amrobilia said...

Long live the dead! What a peculiar post! Hey, wont your Polar Bear Method lead to the creation of a (wo)maneater? That post by an anonymity about your method being more 'nature friendly' prompted this. Are any living beings natural-born humaneaters? That polar you've booked will definitely start favouring humans over salmon and other savouries after it has tasted thy sugar-laden remains.

You started this!

Anonymous said...

If you want some idea of how your body will be disposed of after your shuffling off, I suggest you donate it to science. You can then be pretty sure of being the centre of attention for an eager team of young med students -- "their very own" cadaver for a year.

Marginalien said...

Yes, believe it or not, I too have worried about turning "my" polar bear into a person-eater ... After all, it would be VERY sad if, on account of helping me in my self-disposal plans an innocent mother-of-two gets branded as a vicious animal. So I've thought of a possible method of getting around that problem (though I'll never know whether or not it works!). I will resist the temptation of sharing my solution at this blog because it is in the nature of such plans that they require secrecy.

More disturbing is the realization that there may not be any polar bears left in the wild by the time I'm ready to start shuffling. I'll be forced to row myself out to the sharks, *sigh*.

As for turning my deadness into a subject for medical students -- yes, that thought had occurred to me already, but it doesn't appeal. I'd rather be of use to some hungry furry beast out in the wilds.

GT, I've heard about that cadaver exhibition -- in Germany, isn't it? I saw a movie in which the results were on display and it looked bizarrely thrilling -- Damien Hirst for humans. As for the cannibals in Indonesia, yes, I've read about them several times now, most recently in Jared Diamonds "Guns, Germs & Steel". Curiously, I also read a book of essays in which the author (name forgotten and book no longer in hand -- though I think I can dredge it up from memory if I strain hard enough. I'll try) argues very forcefully that all tales of cannibalism are, in his opinion, not founded in fact. I read Diamond's book just weeks after reading his, and wanted to write at once, asking him what he thought. But didn't.

Anonymous said...

mp - yup the cadaver exhibition was first held in germany (by gunther von hagen based in heidelberg) - and in los angeles now about to be headed ( ow - be headed!!) to chicago. incidentally - an absolute beauty - and a MUST. i do have a dvd that i can post post haste - but you'll have to send the appropri8 address. however nothing like the real stuff. incidentally - the most amazing aspect of that exhibition was the absolute lack of any kind of grotesquenes in the displays - and quite a sight to see li'l kids and so on happily traversing all over the joint. - all display items being readily touchable though you weren't supposed to.

i was kneeling behind some exhibit looking at the prostr8 and figuring out how homosexuality could be pleasurable for the recepient when i saw - through the exhibit a lady peering from the front side and approxim8ly a foot away from me and i asked her -"heh do you realise this was once a dead guy? would you feel so comfortable this close to a corpse?' - and she jerked back at that realization!

the fore tribe stories about endocannibalism are very true -carleton gajdusek got the noble prize for his extensive coverage of the same - though he was a wierdo - and was buggered in 1997 for doing the same with young boys. gt

Marginalien said...

Ooops, not Indonesia, but New Guinea. And as for who that author was ... well, now I know why I couldn't remember his name -- it's because I wouldn't expect him to get his facts wrong and yet, according to Jarred Diamond (and you) he HAS: Martin Gardner. The name of the book in which the essay appears is "Did Adam and Eve Have Navels? Debunking Pseudoscience"

I've been wanting to see that exhib ever since I read about it (when it first opened). So it was kinda neat to see that film -- except it was on TV and so I couldn't control how it scrolled through the show. And it was a feature-film, starring the actress Franka Potente (of RUN, LOLA, RUN) as a medical student (hence the scenes at the show). What surprised me -- and what you're saying confirms what I thought -- was how the bodies were presented for display -- sort of exploded like a technical diagram and yet also artistically. Fascinating. Your museum encounter sounds like it belongs in a film!

Amrit said...

I too am not bothered about what happens to my body once I die, but I want it to be thrown into the ocean. Somehow I feel the oceans, with their vastness and mystery, are more connected with the universe. I don't mind being devoured by any animal as far as my current understanding of life and death goes.

-- Amrit

Anonymous said...

"In pity and mourning but also in eagerness, the dead woman's female relatives carried her cold, naked body down to her sweet-potato garden......The dead woman's daughter and the wife of her adopted son took up knives of split bamboo, their silicate skin sharp as glass. They began to cut the body for the feast." is the start of the 1997 work of Pulitizer prize winning author richard rhodes "deadly feasts" and must confess that i did enjoy reading this book...... but haven't read "the trembling mountain" by klitzman - which, for the sake of completeness also speaks of the similar story. gt

Amrobilia said...

Bravo! Bravo! How the subject of death sparks interest, curiosity and comment! More! More! More!

Anonymous said...

true - sometimes it takes a whole life to learn how to die!gt