One of the best things I’ve ever read, from Alice “The Lovely Bones” Sebold:
AND where do the dead go after they have sucked down their last breaths and drowned in the rafters of their homes? After they have died in the aftermath of fiery explosion? Do they gather, as some believe, together, and ascend to an otherworldly level; or do they remain, watching; or disappear altogether? Do they wait to hear the stories we will tell?
The truth is, none of us knows what the dead do. But on earth, where we remain, the living become the keepers of their memory. This is an awesome and overwhelming responsibility. And it is simple: we must not forget them….
Do the dead wish you to suffer? Do they want you to watch CNN and Fox News for days on end? Do they want your guilt or pity? All of these things are like jewels to them. In other words — valueless where they have gone.
Instead, a woman wants her husband not to forget her but to go on and live. A child longs for a lost mother’s arms again. A man grows peaceful when his partner finds new love. Some of the dead, I imagine, get enraged at these things. They are dead after all. They get to do and feel — I hope — what they want to….
Look up from this newspaper you are reading, ignore the morning traffic you may find yourself in tomorrow, turn off the television one day this week and watch the moon. Think of the dead of 9/11 and of Hurricane Katrina. Stay there a moment. Remember them.
Today’s a day for remembering; I wish everyone peace.
Sorry to rain on your parade but dead is dead. There isn’t some special place they sit and watch the living go on living. They die, turn into worm food, and eventually everyone forgets they existed.
@Gindy51: And you know this how, exactly? Not saying you’re wrong, but your certitude is as silly as one of those “Heaven is real” movies.
How are Bush, Cheney, and their incompetent crew of corruptards spending the day?
In much nicer circumstances than they deserve, that is for certain.
Whatever we think about the afterlife, or lack of one, we could at least remember our dead by helping the living. I believe that is what this passage is saying.
I know for certain certain that all the people I loved in my life watch me from inside my head. Sometimes they are pleased, sometimes the issue harsh judgments. I am very glad to have them with me.
@p.a.: An excellent question. The answer, unfortunately, is “not in jail.”
More seriously, I wonder if any of them feels even a twinge of remorse. Not Cheney, in my view. Perhaps Bush.
@Immanentize: :-) me too
Agreed. My sig line at GOS used to be “Save your tears for the living”
@Gindy51: And your proof would be?
Let each person believe whatever is in agreement with their own experience of reality. Yes, some of reality can be called “objective” (that which can be observed and measured,) but there are are other parts that, at least now, we are unable to discern (life on other planets, life after death, the existence of God.) Leave that to each person’s understanding of the reality in which they live.
@Gindy51: Metaphor’s a thing, you know.
Everybody knows in a second life, we all come back sooner or later
As anything from a pussycat to a man eating alligator
Well you all may think my story is more fiction than it’s fact
But believe it or not my mother dear decided she’d come back
As a car …
@Hillary Rettig: Bush, remorse for 9/11? Not a chance. Bush is too frequently given a pass because of his abject stupidity, but he’s every bit as heartless as Cheney.
@Immanentize: Absolutely! We honor the dead by working to make this world a better place. As Newton put it, if he saw further, it was because he stood on the shoulders of giants. When we move forward in wisdom and kindness, we honor our ancestors; we’re standing on tall shoulders.
If someone we loved died in a stupid way: it often inspires us to work on preventing that from happening to someone else.
I can feel absolutely volcanic when some winger whines at me about regulations: because they are all written in blood.
Good Morning ?, Everyone ?
@WereBear: You nailed it. Reminds me of Capt. Sullenberger who was able to save many lives because he had a huge personal focus on safety and support on that from his union. Versus the airlines that want to crush the unions, skimp on safety, etc.
@WereBear: And yet we are unable to wrest even assault weapons and high capacity magazines out of the hands of the ammosexuals though the pleas to do so are written in the blood of children.
Death vs. the effects of death are two different things. I think Gindy51 covered death, while @WereBear covered the effects of death pretty well with:
@MJS: @greennotGreen: There’s a little thing called “science” and all the evidence this science thing gathers says that when we cease being, well we cease to be. If you want to believe against all evidence that there is some other plane of existence, fine. Indeed, I am even a little envious, because I want there to be something more, it would be nice (and comforting) if there is such a thing. But I’ve never been a nice person and long ago got over being comfortable.
ETA for clarity
None of the Bush, Jr. crew feel remorse.
If they did 9/11/01 would have been a mea culpe moment, in which they realized the Clinton people still in administrative positions were right about the threat al-Qaeda posed and the Bush, Jr crew’s focus on missile defense was misguided use of resources.
That did not happen.
They opportunistically used the national tragedy to drum up support for a war in Iraq on lies. Let their media mouth-pieces declare 9/11/01 was Bill Clinton’s fault, thus absolving Bush & Co from responsibility, fought tooth and nail against the formation of a 9/11/01 Commission, which would have resolved where mistakes were made and the list of pitiless actions goes on and on.
They are heartless bastards. All of them. Bush, Jr, Cheney, Powell, Rice, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, et al.
They had a chance at remorse on 9/12/01 and brushed it aside and have not looked back.
@WereBear: I’ve never thought of it that way, but you are right.
Alice Sebold is a fine writer, but I’ve avoided her since reading “The Lovely Bones,” which still haunts me years later.
In Chicago they vote for Democrats
I think you’re wrong. I don’t have scientific fact to back me up, but I know there’s more. Not anything like what any religion insists we believe. I know I’ve felt loved ones now and then, ever since they began dying on me. I don’t believe you can look up at a star-filled sky, with knowledge of the utter vastness of the universe, and not think there’s something more than the petty shit going on down here.
@OzarkHillbilly: Science involves things that are observable and measurable. There were bacteria before we had microscopes to see them and distant planets orbiting other stars before we had telescopes to detect them. Our inability to detect consciousness outside the physical body may mean there’s no such thing, or it may mean we haven’t invented the device to detect it yet.
In the meantime, some humility with respect to the limits of our knowledge may be called for.
The dead do live on among the living, in all ways noted upthread, because the past is never really past. But death itself is an impenetrable boundary. All we on this side see of it is that a consciousness is extinguished once and for all. Does that consciousness continue in some way on the other side? Well, we don’t even know if there is another side, do we? We can’t know; no one ever reports back from the other side.
Many of us, like me, are taught that reward or punishment awaits us there, according to how we lived in this life; that we ourselves are good and will be rewarded, whereas certain others are bad and will be punished. i suspect there was at least a bit of vanity involved in the forming of that belief.
And all the neocon war criminals are still alive and well.
I like the Sebold piece. What I take from it is something that I’ve believed for a long time: that those who are gone still have a life in our memories.
@debbie: I wonder if some of the difference between those who believe in something outside our physical world is like the difference between those who have good color vision and those who don’t. ( Not exactly, because you can measure color vision and aspects of the eye and the vision systems in the brain.) But imagine we were in ancient times in a tribe that had widespread poor color vision like most of our mammalian cousins. And up pops a new kid who marvels at how lovely the sunset is or a field of red poppies. In those ancient times they probably would make the kid a shaman. Nowadays, there are many people who would call the kid a fool.
Probably because people are now more focused on looking in than in out.
You may not be comfortable but, at least here to me and countless others, you have certainly been a nice person. But I really don’t want to spoil your well-deserved grumpiness. ?
Meanwhile, I saw on one of last night’s threads that you are going to get rotator cuff surgery. I am sorry you have to go through that, but on the back side of surgery you’ll be able to pitch 90 mph fastballs again!
I really don’t know if there’s a God or an afterlife, and I feel as comfortable accepting there is as I do accepting there isn’t. But I’ve always found a sort of peace in this poem ( an interesting and impertinent bit of cultural appropriation by a very minor and very flawed poet):
Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase!)
Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace,
And saw, within the moonlight in his room,
Making it rich, and like a lily in bloom,
An angel writing in a book of gold:
Exceeding peace had made Ben Adhem bold,
And to the presence in the room he said,
“What writest thou?” The vision raised its head,
And with a look made of all sweet accord,
Answered, “The names of those who love the Lord.”
“And is mine one?” said Abou. “Nay, not so,”
Replied the angel. Abou spoke more low,
But cheerly still; and said, “I pray thee, then,
Write me as one that loves his fellow men.”
The angel wrote, and vanished. The next night
It came again with a great wakening light,
And showed the names whom love of God had blest,
And lo! Ben Adhem’s name led all the rest.
Or, as a friend of mine jokingly put it, it doesn’t matter if you believe in God because he believes in you.
From Gene Wolfe:
“You are the advocate of the dead”.
“I am. People talk about being fair to this one and that one, but nobody I ever heard talks about doing right by them. We take everything they had, which is all right. And spit, most often, on their opinions, which I suppose is all right too. But we ought to remember now and then how much of what we have we got from them. I figure while I’m still here I ought to put in a word for them.”
@greennotGreen: personally I am with Ozark on the afterlife — I am living a sort of reverse Pascal’s gamble. If there is an afterlife — will my face be red! I am expecting nothing, and as said upstairs, that makes me want to do good now. I don’t need the threats of punishments or the inducements of rewards to try to add a little bit to ease the pain of others. Although I have certainly added to the pain of some….
Whether there literally is an afterlife or not is immaterial to the passage in the OP, as I read it.
We just saw “Kubo and the Two Strings”, and the above strikes me as remarkably reminiscent of it, considering it’s theoretically a children’s film.
@Matt McIrvin: The trailer was spectacular. I’m glad the film lived up to it. So often they don’t.
@greennotGreen: Yes, the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. And the Abominable Snowmen are up there in those mountains and the Loch Ness monster is hiding somewhere in the depths. Vaccines cause autism and we have been visited by aliens. All of which is every bit as insulting to you as telling me I should be a little more humble, that I should not accept the available evidence because some day some other evidence may supersede it. I repeat:
I watched my father succumb to Alzheimers over a period of years. Bit by bit the man I knew and loved disappeared as his brain slowly disintegrated. During those years I told myself I could still see some small spark of the man that made him… him, but in the end there was nothing left but a shell that could do nothing more than sit and crush my hand for hours at a time. I told myself that it was giving him some comfort, this one small connection to the real world, and as I left him after my visits I still lied and said “I’m going to the bathroom. I’ll be right back.” even tho he had never said a word or even looked at me.
This was me, lying to me. Pretending that my visits still meant something to him when in reality they only meant something to me. My father had died a long time before we finally laid him in his grave.
And I would love to continue this discussion, but my wife awaits my exit so she can work on this infernal machine and make it work the way it is supposed to.
@Emma: Don’t be so hard on old Hunt!
@Immanentize: I actually like him quite a bit, if only for the silly cheerfulness of ‘Jenny Kissed Me’. His chief predicament was to be working at a time chock full of great poets who were also self-dramatizing poseurs.
Chris Dickey on how we have become a nation of fear:
@Emma: but as I understood the history, he discovered and promoted a number of the true greats. Maybe he himself was not a great or diciplined poet, but he could spot one a mile (or two) away.
and also from the daily beast a bit of hope:
I was in graduate school on Long Island. It was a beautiful morning and my wife and I were returning from our walk when we noticed the column of smoke to the west of us. “Probably one of the refineries in Elizebeth (NJ) ” we thought, and turned on the TV when we got home to see if there was any news about it.
Seared into my brain.
@D58826: in the months after 9-11, I realized something similar — that if Bin Laden had really wanted to ruin the US for generations, all that was needed was some well placed suicide shooters around the country who would go to public places like malls or sporting events and just randomly shoot people. We would have turned into a full on police state in a year. But Bin Laden either misunderstood this country’s latent fears or didn’t have the capacity to act. Both I suppose.
But what about anthrax? Still a friggin mystery to me. If anyone wants to see the unhinged fear-driven psyche of this country on full display, read MoDo’s anthrax articles.
I would say that there is zero reason to believe that the dead experience anything, or even exist.
So, IMO, the remembrance is for our sake, not theirs. We remember because we care. Because of what we shared with people who have left us. I remember my best friend, who is gone, every day.
I also often call to mind people who died for something greater than themselves, even though I have no direct memories of them. For example, I think about MLK, even though he died before I had any idea who he really was.
Personally, I don’t know anyone who died in 9/11 or Katrina. So, I have nothing to “remember” about them. And, while their deaths were part of disasters, and those disasters have clear implications for our politics, policies, government, society, culture, and so on, still, they didn’t really die for any cause, either.
I live in NYC, but, I’m sorry, I really don’t care very much about 9/11. At least in the sense of what I see as the maudlin, self pitying, America is oh so special, “We must never forget 9/11” way. I cared about it a lot less than what was supposedly the norm, or what was socially “required,” at the time. And, as the years go by, I progressively care even less about it.
And, sorry, Ms. Sebold, but in my view the dead don’t exist as you posit they do, and today, like every other day, I will think about what I want to, and who I want to, and not who and what you tell me to.
@Immanentize: I think most Americans live in deep economic fear these days. So deep it is hard to admit it, so they project it onto external forces.
We lived a block from a funeral home. There were services almost every night in the weeks following 9/11. Our good friend was an elementary school teacher, and she would come over to our place to cry; a number of her kids had lost fathers or mothers.
Fighter jets were flying over at treetop level. Everyone seemed stunned.
Here’s my $.02’s worth:
I lack religious faith but I do believe that there’s sacred and profane aspects to our lives and our worlds.
I believe that life is hard, and our job is to help each other get through this life in good times and in hard times.
The last few years has been a lengthening roster of loss-friends, family members, pets a veritable army of musicians and I find comfort in the remembrance of the lost.
I mark remembrance in celebrating the Dia de Los Muertos for the last 15 years by throwing a house party. We clear out the living room and hire a dj. There’s an ofrenda for guests to bring photos and momentos of those they’ve lost to death and wish to remember. There’s art and decoration, food and beverages, tears, laughter-and three children conceived post-party, a marriage and colorful cut paper overhead and flowers everywhere.
This years, my mother will take the place of honor in my heart, on my mind and on the offering table.
She was done, done done with her strong body and ailing mind. Her body is definitely in the ground. But her spirit escaped and may be doing what spirits do and if she and all the rest want to be near and celebrate lives undaunted by death at a time when it is believed that the veil between the two worlds is thin and permiable then we will celebrate.
So much this. The Pinky-and-the-Brain view of the Bush/Cheney relationship tends to obfuscate this: while he was no criminal mastermind and not much of an ideologue, Bush was still a huge asshole.
It’s hard to tell sometimes with the teleprompter speeches and the painful interviews, but his sense of humor and unguarded comments are where you find the gold. This is the guy who joked “nope, no WMDs over there… maybe over there.” This is the guy who, when asked if he felt he owed the Iraqis an apology for not doing a better job of rebuilding their country, wisecracked “that we didn’t do a better job or they didn’t do a better job?” This is the guy who was faced with a divorced mother of three working three jobs to pay the bills and could only go “wow, you work three jobs? That’s great! Uniquely American!” This is the guy who on the campaign trail praised donors as “an impressive crowd, the haves and the have mores! Some people call you the elite, I call you my base!” This is the guy who left a G8 summit with a fist pump, a big grin, and a “goodbye from the world’s biggest polluter!” It was all just a big joke.
Yes, Bush was an intellectually lazy asshole, yes, he left most of the work to his supposed underlings, yes, it’s doubtful that he ever fully understood everything that was being done by his administration. But he couldn’t have cared less. He was every bit the privileged brat and sociopathic plutocrat that Mitt Romney was. So no, I don’t believe he ever felt remorse, although given the magnitude of his crimes, it’s a bit irrelevant.
Here we go again. FSM must be a repuiblican. Hillary left the 9/11 event early because she wasn’t feeling well. SS helped her into the van and she went to Chlesa’s apt. News media on death watch. .
When it comes to human relationships, objective truth isn’t everything. I’ve been thinking about this during the past week. The Ethicist column in the NYTimes Magazine published a question I had. The response was a little shallow, but this part was on target:
Sometimes, in the face of tragedy, beliefs (whether justifiable or not) are a matter of emotional survival.
No One You Know
Thank you for this lovely passage, Hilary.
@OzarkHillbilly: I offer my heartfelt condolences for your father. Living that is a singular heartbreak, and it does extinguish many an illusion.
I have been helped by Aaron Freeman’s Physicist’s Eulogy:
Having lost my dad in 2014, my son last year, a good friend last month, and just yesterday, my dear, 17-year-old dog, I would love to believe they are enjoying each other’s company again. But I can’t get there. I take more comfort in knowing that I did all I could to make their lives better while they were here. And their energy does go on.
To quote P. Pullman (in The Amber Spyglass) :
I doubt that Bush feels remorse. He was the one who mocked Carla Fay Tucker. I get that he did not want to grant her a pardon (shows he has no mercy). But to mock her? He has no grace either, We make a mistake to attribute any human decency to the Bush Cheney bunch,