Everything has an ending these days. By the folklore of computer technology (e.g. built in obsolescence, 18 month life span, etc.) this computer has lived several lives since we purchased it for our trip to South Africa in 2012. I noticed that the power cord was fussy recently, as then the frayed insolation and exposed wiring was evident a couple of days ago (that was one of the errands that I did to replace the cord). Food comes with “best used by” dates. And California is burning up in less-than geologic time (Sonoma County is under evacuation, the smoke is setting off the alarm in my mother’s home, and the power in Marin County was turned off this afternoon)… well I’ll stay away from discussing the demise of western civilization. Our expiration is usually a little more personal.
The day that I posted the poem Dead Calm, I also received an e-mail from a cousin. Her father, my uncle, had died. I’ll let you decide whether that poem was coincidental or challenging some other cosmic connection. But, would you expect that an opportunity for a good story would be missed on my account?
Given the uncertainty of highway travel in this area, and the Mapquest estimated 1 hour and 22 minute drive from home to the cemetery, we decided to head out with 2 hours. Of course, that meant that we arrived in 59 minutes. But, that was okay, as my mother’s parents are interned in the columbarium at the same cemetery, so we would go visit them until others arrived.
We stopped in the cemetery office to verify the location, and use the bathrooms. They offered us a cup of coffee. As we set up our coffee, someone in an office called out, do you smell smoke? We collectively scanned the ceiling of the hallway, identifying a line of smoke wafting across the light fixture. A hot plastic odor become more evident. The staff turned the lights off and called the fire department. I mixed my coffee and headed outside with my maps of the grounds. No visible smoke was outside at least from the roof. A haze of smoke from the fires north of San Francisco filled the valley.
We headed up the road to the location for my uncle’s burial, and my grandparents’ resting place. A flock of wild turkeys greeted us on the grounds. Now, several of my cousins are hunters… Thanksgiving is around the corner… I wonder when the turkey season is in California… okay, lets focus on why we are here.
The family gathers… I try to connect the faces of those getting out of vehicles… cousins whom I have not seen probably for… hmmm, their parents stilled lived in their home and could invite us all over for a cook out… which was probably ten years ago. Listening carefully and guessing judiciously, I gave hugs to anyone within proximity and had the list of names and faces corrected before I stuck my foot in my mouth.
The generations arrived, friends in their 80’s and 90’s, children in their 50’s and 60’s, grandchildren in their 20’s and 30’s, and great-grandchildren toddling about or babes-in-arms. Words, solemn and joyous were recited. The UC Berkeley fight song sung as a funeral dirge, then reiterated with more clamor as the casket was lowered. The turkeys had wandered over the edge of a hill, away from the gathering.
As there would be several hours until the formal reception, the neighbors whose daughter had purchased the family home couple of years ago, invited us to come back to the home to hang out, visit, and reminisce about the many gatherings that my aunt and uncle had hosted there. We spanned the years and geography which has separated the various intersections of our adult lives.
The afternoon reception was held at a local public garden that my aunt and uncle had volunteered with many years before. Family members shared impressions and stories. Former classmates, neighbors, and travel companions joined in memorializing events, characteristics, and the legacy of their lives. While my aunt had died three years earlier, and had a similar service at the same gardens, their lives were intertwined, such that his memory is as much her memory. The singularity of loss was not separated by time, but joined together.
The buffet was enjoyed. Relationships re-connected. Addresses updated. Memories enshrined. Enshrined, not in a gravesite, or mausoleum, but in the people whose lives they had effected. The things of life may have expiration dates, but our memories, held, shared, meditated upon do not need expire. Eternity need not be ephemeral.