Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Death-Defying Hope

Death is a hard concept to get your head around so, like most difficult things, we tend to avoid it, to push it out of our conscious thoughts. There is nothing we can do about it anyway, right? Well, maybe, maybe not. We can at least look at it, talk about it and feel a little tiny bit less alone in our concern, like in all concerns.

Flying in an airplane just naturally raises one's consciousness about possible death. It seems impossible to fly in a metal contraption thousands of feet in the air and survive. My kids love flying, exhibit no fear. Except, their questions show they are obviously hip to what's happening, to their potential demise if the plane should down.

As we walked on to one of the many planes we flew on recently, Eli asked, loudly, "Why do planes crash, Mommy?"

"Shhhh..." my husband said, then quietly added, "we don't talk about that."

I laughed. Strange that we don't talk about it when everybody is thinking about it, isn't it? But he's right. It's bad form to talk about crashing when you're getting on a plane. But, still, I did explain to Eli when we sat down that there are so many reasons planes crash, usually different ones every time that get studied and studied and studied so it doesn't happen again, which is why it happens so rarely. He loves rare things, he is an odds man, for sure, so the idea cheered him as I knew it would.

"Anyway," I said, "there is nothing that your worrying about it is going to do, so you might as well enjoy."

That is true not just on airplanes but everywhere, right? It is only that airplanes present a seemingly tangible image of a particularly gruesome way to die. But we are forced, usually, many times a day, to consider the possibility of death. Especially those who choose to watch or read the news. I opt out, like last night, in the car on the way home from the airport, listening for two seconds to 1010 Winds, I heard so many disgusting tales of death, I asked the driver politely to turn it down, or off.

It is good to be able to face the truth of one's eventual demise, to help our children grapple with their own concerns, but to fixate on the many horrible ways it happens to others...not my cup of tea. Just like listening to the painful miseries of the rich and famous doesn't float my boat.

Death shouldn't be the elephant in the room. It can be something we laugh about, if we're lucky. Take the other day. I had asked a family friend if she wanted to join us at our hotel with her kids, to swim. Even though it was freezing, the pool was heated, fine for us New Yorkers.

She shook her head. "Too cold," she said, "And, anyway, my waxer died..."

I threw my head back in laughter. I felt a little bad laughing at death but, really, it was a great line, delivered perfectly.

"I'm sorry for your waxer, but is it possible you might replace her, or..."

"Well," she said, shaking her head, "it just happened." She was young, the circumstances were a little strange and my friend was clearly sad about it but, still, she had used it to make a joke. She was dealing with her upset in a healthy way. No surprise, her father is a psychiatrist. I overheard him giving advice to his son-in-law and something occurred to me that I guess should have occurred to me before.

"Psychiatrists are very hopeful people, aren't they?" I asked.

He thought about it for a minute, then looked at me. "Well," he said tentatively, "I hope so." Great, perfect.

"I didn't even mean to say that..." he said. He had just,honestly, felt hopeful. It's all we can hope for, to be hopeful, actually. Death will surely come, there is no denying it. But, in the meantime, there, hopefully, is hope. It is all I can give my children when they ask about their own death and when it will come.

"Hopefully," I say, "you will live a very long life..."

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