Monday, April 8, 2013

A poet looks at death

Thomas Lynch is both a poet and, like other members of his Michigan-based family, a funeral director. It may not be a common combination, but perhaps each job inspires the other. His 1997 book The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade, is not a collection of his poetry but rather a series of essays reflecting on his day job.

The book avoids the grisly details of what he calls "the dismal trade." Rather these essays are more philosophical, even poetical. Here are a few of his most notable observations:

"Just as we declare the living alive through baptism, lovers in love by nuptials, funerals are the way we close the gap between the death that happens and the death that matters. It's how we assign meaning to our little remarkable histories."

"The flush toilet, more than any single invention, has 'civilized' us in a way that religion and law could never accomplish."

"Now they are both dead and I reckon a fixture in my father's  heaven is the absence of any of his children there, and a fixture in my mother's is the intuition that we will all follow, sooner or later but certainly."

"When we bury the old, we bury the known past, the past we imagine sometimes better than it was, but the past all the same, a portion of which we inhabited. Memory is the overwhelming theme, the eventual comfort."

"We need our witnesses and archivists to say we lived, we died, we made this difference. Where death means nothing, life is meaningless. It's a grave arithmetic.

"No member of my generation: that demographic aneurysm called the Baby Boom, should miss the hapless irony that the first generation to plan its parenthood, to manage and manipulate its fertility, may well be the first generation to have our deaths planned for us, our mortality managed and manipulated by our own children, those who survived the gauntlet of our choices."

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