Friday, November 19th 2004

Protected: My godson is a redhead!
posted @ 1:01 pm in [ ]

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Saturday, November 13th 2004

posted @ 1:38 pm in [ ]
I don’t really want to talk about the election anymore. I’m crushed. Anyone who has the capacity for rational thought is crushed. What it really says to me, though, is that there is no time to be sad. If Kerry had won, it would have marked the end of an important fight. As it is, it’s merely the beginning of one.

I will say this, though. The first distance learning class we had after the election had Bill Press as its guest. He’s one of my favorite guests, and he was a perfect choice. I knew he would either be celebrating with me or he would make me feel better about the outcome, which he did. Bill Press is in many ways an old-school Democrat, plus he’s funny, likeable, and hip. As the former chair of the California Democratic Party, and having served in various political roles as well as run innumerable campaigns, he has a really good inside perspective (which you know if you’ve seen his commentary on various news networks).

Bill Press was like a good Catholic funeral. I had been walking around for two days like the world had ended and I was just waiting to get a big stack of books and break my giant cokebottle glasses. He didn’t seem to notice democracy’s mushroom cloud off in the distance, though. He was talking about tomorrow. And next week. And stuff after that. Like the world was going to go on and on like we thought it would the week before. How novel, I thought. He thinks life goes on.

Eventually, in the course of the hour or so he was with us by cogent cable, I started to feel the same way. I imagine I will still be alive next week. Disappointment never killed anyone, no matter how crushing, you know? Sometimes hate beats out hope. Sometimes fear defeats reason. Sometimes ignorance is preferable to the unpleasant truth. Those of us who have tied all our hopes to hopefulness and reason get our hats handed to us. Life does in fact go on, though. It is a good thing I still draw breath, because now I can keep fighting. So our battle to take back our country from fear, ignorance and tyranny didn’t end on November 2. It just means the fight is harder, not that it’s over.

So every one of us who is depressed, who is angry, who doesn’t understand how the hell their country betrayed them, needs to put that depressing bag of Chee-tos down and get the hell off the tear-soaked couch already. Do not let the evil and ignorance of our misdirected rulers sap your strength. Every minute we lack visibility, those f*ckers think we accept what happened, that we’re going to let them get away with frightening our fellow citizens into submission. Tomorrow is still coming, and you had better be ready to meet it. The fight isn’t over because Kerry lost, or because you’re sad. Reach down into the pit of your gut, to whatever organ that was that flipped and sank when you saw Ohio turn from cream-colored to red, and squeeze it hard. Steep in your outrage for however long it takes to get you really seething. Then get to the phone, or to your computer, or next door, and round up the rest of us. Show fear and ignorance what a real mandate looks like.

Life goes on. We live to fight another day. So fight.

Monday, November 1st 2004

Funerals: Catholic vs. Protestant
posted @ 11:15 am in [ - ]
So I’ve been to a lot of funerals, mostly Catholic. I went to a funeral on Friday, the second Protestant one I’ve ever been to. I find them, well, a little weird. But I’ll get to that in a minute.

Friday’s funeral was for a woman I had never met. I know her daughter, though, and that’s why I was there. She’s a long-time denizen of the dance studio, and the Treasurer of the arts board of which I’m Vice President. She’s only in her mid-twenties, I think–much too young to lose her mom, who was younger than my parents. Verna Morse (the mom in question) was only 53, and died very suddenly last week. Just came into her living room after feeling a little fluish during the day, collapsed, and was gone before the paramedics could get there. Nobody knew at the time exactly how she died (and I still haven’t heard). She seemed like someone who will sure be missed a lot: a fun mom whose home was open to all. Apparently she was also really into sports, and collected bobble-head dolls. When her favorite teams would lose, she would turn the bobble-heads’ faces to the wall to express her disappointment. Hearing the eulogy, I couldn’t help feeling a little ripped off that I hadn’t met her.

I was there for her daughter, though, a quiet schoolteacher and great dancer who gave me my first prep classes when I first came to the studio to take jazz classes in 1999. She was a college student then. The funeral was probably the first time I’d ever seen her at a non-studio-or-board-related event in all that time. But I went because when somebody in one of the communities you belong to has a loss like that, you by-god show up, even if you don’t know anyone else there. You show up for the viewing if there is one, you show up for mass if there is one, you show up for the funeral however it is, you show up for the burial if you’re invited, and showing up for the reception/dinner if there is one is optional, but recommended.

So I went to the funeral of someone I had never met and I cried anyway, mostly because I find it difficult to steep in that kind of grief and not be affected by it, but also out of empathy for her daughter. I politely and compassionately told everyone in the receiving line I was sorry for their loss (and meant it) and shook their hands–they were strangers for whom I had a great deal of empathy–but I squeezed Alanna as hard as anyone should ever squeeze a ballerina and I just about lost it.

I firmly believe that funerals and other death rituals are for the living. However you need to honor/celebrate the departed person to keep living, that’s how it should be. Most of the funerals I have been to have been Catholic. When I was in divinity school, the Prots would always kind of wrinkle up their noses when they talked about Catholocism, invariably saying, “All that ritual.” I never quite understood that. The ritual is the best part of Catholicism. The ritual is what makes it organic and comforting. Protestantism is so… sterile.

At a Catholic funeral, there are a few viewings beforehand in the days preceeding the funeral, each lasting for a few hours, and usually at a funeral home with rich decor. The family is in a quiet room with the casket (usually open) and the dear departed and a number of moveable chairs. You get dressed up, you show up, and if you’re Catholic, you make an evening of it. You come to spend time with the family, to say some last stuff to the person you will never see again, and you get CLOSURE. You can touch the body. You can put things in the casket. You can say whatever you need to say. You hang out with the family, start to get used to them without the person who is gone now, begin forming a new relationship together. You talk about what you remember about the departed person. The family gets the support and love of all the people to whom their lost loved one meant something too. They’re not alone. Everyone is sad together. Toward the end of the viewing, you can start to hear some soft laughter. People begin to get comfortable with their grief and are able to share things that are funny about the person who is gone. The laughter is a relief, and I think, extremely healthy. If Protestants come to a viewing at all, though (only a few brave souls venture there), they stick around for maybe 5-10 minutes. They come in, they pay their respects to the family, and they get the hell out. Perhaps the body being there freaks them out–it’s usually not part of their ritual. Again, though, I think it’s healthy to be able to look at death. It makes it less frightening, more natural, and it reminds you that what’s left is just a shell–the magical life force that inhabits us all is merely carried around in this vessel.

If you’re a member of the family, you get used to the idea of the person being gone during the course of the viewings, and you get a lot of support from a lot of good folks. Everybody in the community shares your grief in some part, and it helps spread the weight of grief around so you can feel all the help you have carrying it. Lots of folks send food. It’s nice, when you spend several days thinking of nothing but death and death arrangements, to have things like cold cuts and fruit around when you realize you haven’t eaten in many hours–and you sure wouldn’t have had the foresight to have bought them yourself. Folks who have had the experience often have deli platters delivered to the family home as a nice way to take care of the family during a tough time. It’s a small, practical thing, but when you are so addled with decisions about death, you are not always thinking much about your own preservation. Sure, you get tired of cold cuts, but it’s not like you can think of anything that would be better, and they’re ready whenever you are.

Catholics have a mass for the funeral of course. Everything gets a mass. Weddings get a mass. Holidays get a mass. Funerals get a mass. Every week gets a mass you’re supposed to show up to (although going to one of the others counts). Sometimes it’s shorter than the full hour and there is more community participation: readings from the Bible, prayers, hymns, eulogies, etc. In my opinion, this is sort of the least useful part of the process, but as previously mentioned, everything gets a mass. There’s no way around it.

After the mass is the burial, which is a separate deal. The entire population of the funeral gets in their cars and proceeds to the burial site together. I remember being in the family limosine when my grandfather died and looking out the back window at the procession behind us. I couldn’t see the end of it, even when we were at the top of a hill, so many were his admirers and mourners. He had meant a lot to a great number of people. It made me feel proud and special. He had done good things with his life.

A few more words are said at the burial site. You’ve been preparing for this for days on end now, so you’re usually ready to say goodbye. After that, you leave the grave site and go to the reception. It’s more subdued than, say, a wedding reception, and there’s usually a big meal. There is a real sense of getting on with life together, and the community reorganizing a little because of the hole left in it. The cards and flowers (and deli platters) continue for a while afterward, but this is the last part of the ritual. I think the best part about the whole experience is that it allows you to take the time to deal with death. It also offers a number of avenues for community support.

Protestant services, on the other hand, seem very sterile and almost in denial of death to me. There is no viewing. The body is either cremated or unseen, usually not even present. Sometimes the family is behind a screen or louvered doors–they are totally isolated from the community who should be comforting them. There’s a memorial service, sometimes a reception afterward, and that’s it. No time to get to the soft laughter, no opportunity to see the body and know the person is gone, or reflect on death, or spend time with the family.

The funeral on Friday consisted of the playing of 4 songs the dearly departed had liked, with a reverend getting up and doing a reading or speaking about her for a few minutes in between. He was comforting, and I suppose there was a great deal of meditation time during the songs themselves, but I kinda missed that Protestant-nose-wrinkling “ritual”. Again, though, death rituals are for the living, for the grieving. I’m sure it’s what Verna would have wanted–it was a nice celebration of her life and lots of folks cared about her and missed her.

There are a lot of reasons why I think the Catholic church is really weird, and why I don’t belong to it. Women should be priests; I should be able to take birth control pills if I want–it’s really none of the Pope’s business; there are just too damn many sins and exorbitant prices to pay for them; some of the articles of faith still stem from Dark Ages ways of thinking; suffering is a part of life, not a goal… One thing it does super-well, though, is deal with death in a healthy and organic way. That and confession: really good stuff.