Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Seventy-two Hour Rule

My mother and father lie buried alongside each other in a family plot in the town where I grew up in Alabama. When I go back to my home there, I generally will make a pass through the cemetery. Sometimes I get out of the car and walk around to pull a wayward weed or to adjust a bad floral tribute that has weathered poorly since my last visit.

Often, I just look from the car.

To be completely honest, the cemetery visit isn’t an important ritual to me because, in my mind, they are not there. They are not beneath the brass plaque that gives credence to their birth and to their death.

They are, for me, precisely and squarely in my mind. They are with me in every thought I have because they helped formed my attitudes and challenged my beliefs. Memories of them cause me to laugh riotously or to sometimes brush a tear. But it is all good, even the sadness that they are no longer at the other end of a phone line ready to help me feel a little more secure in times of doubt.

They are not only “in my mind,” they are often “on my mind” as well. Each day of my life I remember them and I smile. I can well understand Madame Rosepettle’s love for her husband that is so great that upon his death, she has him stuffed so that he may stay around with the family and be enjoyed.

She eventually moves on and one day her son finds "Dad" hanging in the closet.

I am not so certain that I would like either parent sitting about like a taxidermist specimen as Mr.Rosepettle was in the Kopit play. However, I would love to hear my father tell, yet again, the story of stealing the chocolates from the general store on a hot July day in Mississippi and stashing the ill-gotten treats in the bloomers being worn by his sister, Frances. Remember, it was Mississippi in July. You do the math.

Or to hear my purple-haired mom mocking Aunt Inie muttering, “my God, child you may hurry” as she attempted to get me moving. Or recalling the events which plagued the family when trying to get to Clanton for Aunt Becky Ann’s funeral.

These family stories are classics and the images they evoke are priceless to me. They are very present always.

So, I am having a bit of difficulty with all the rancor over building a mosque at 45 Park Place in New York City or one in Tennessee or Georgia or California.

Maybe I wear my grief differently.

Each of us recalls where we were when we heard the news or saw the images of planes flying into the World Trade Center. Living in Chicago, I immediately left the downtown area since I didn’t know if what was then called The Sears Tower would also be a target. So yes, there is a horror associated with the events of that September day. It was tragic in every respect.

But the souls lost on that fateful day are not at ground-zero. They are in the minds and hearts of their families – or they should be. They should be in living rooms and on patios. They should be in graduations and weddings. They are at first communions.

Bulldozers and other heavy equipment have been transforming the earth that once held those towers aright. The site is almost unrecognizable. Things have been plowed over and under.

They are not there.

A congregation seeks to build a center for worship and community over two city blocks away. It is not visible from ground-zero. It is a physical impossiblity to see from there. The buildings to be built at ground-zero will dwarf anything around for blocks, so this Islamic center cannot possibly cast any type of shadow save the shadow that exists when we throw up barriers which are products of hatred and ignorance.

That, to my thinking, is the real insult to the memory of those lost on that day in 2001.

I have given my children a guideline that I insist they follow. It is called the Seventy-two Hour Rule. It goes like this:

If I fall off my sailboat, they may look for 72 hours.

If I am lost in a collapse of a coal mine, they may look for 72 hours.

If I have fallen down an abandoned well, they may look for 72 hours.

If I fly my plane off looking for a balloon landing site and go missing, they may look for 72 hours.

The bottom line is, “don’t hold everyone hostage just because my mortal shell is missing.” Move on. Life is too short. Read my words. Listen to my music. Get involved with my projects. You will find that I am right there and we will all smile, maybe even laugh.

Many years before my parents died, I was in Alabama for a visit. My maternal grandmother had died a few months before, so mother requested we go to the old family plot to inspect the grave marker that had been recently placed but not checked by anyone to see that it was done correctly.

While we were there, I said to my parents, “I don’t know what your plans are for when you die. I need to know.” My mother said, "come with me."

My parents drove to the newer cemetery across town and took me to the family plot they had purchased. It sat very close to the quiet, wandering drive. Despite the fact that there was no one buried there, there was an impressive brass tablet embedded in the ground with both parent’s names and dates of birth. The dates of death were yet to be added.

It was obviously the first time that my father had viewed it and I could tell that it was, for him, a sobering moment. He walked away, not wishing to be confronted with his future.

I hastened to lighten the situation.

“Look, everyone passing down the highway is talking about your ‘no-good, Yankee-fied son who doesn’t even put any flowers on his daddy’s grave.’ They think you are already here and that I just don’t care.”

He smiled, even chuckled a bit at the thought that I was taking the fall and we went on our way.

Well, there are bad artificial flowers there now. Not for mother and daddy so much as for the gossips who need to discuss things like that in a small town.

Much like the Sarah Palin’s and Newt Gingrich’s need to weigh in on mosques.

Your 72 hours are up, move on. You have no monopoly on compassion or grief.

My father would laugh to the point he would gasp for air when telling about Frances and the dripping chocolate. When I knew her in later years, Aunt Frances had always seemed so proper. More like the Shott’s side of the family. Of course, she was married eight or so times for fun and profit.

Well, it is for certain she wasn’t Baptist.

Dad, keep it up, I am laughing now.

1 comment:

  1. Great post! I hope you don't mind - I put a link to this one on my blog post today.