three deaths and a funeral
August 16, 2011 § Leave a comment
About three wks have passed since all of these have come and gone. I don’t find them depressing though. The hours spent processing, erasing and rewriting, praying through the emotions behind each question have culminated in something radical and worthy of your consideration. I feel that another kind of life is breeding in me. And when she wakes and opens her mouth, nothing’s ever going to be the same again
The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.
I remember writing something on a scene that has stuck with me from the movie Harry Potter and The Order of Phoenix – my favorite out of all seven books! It’s towards the end when the age-old cliché of good vs evil becomes rapid spirals of white and black smoke, the Order and the Death Eaters duel. At that time, my thoughts were on the spiritual reality the scene paralleled — “isn’t that how God fights for us? the turmoil within our hearts, sinful desire of flesh against our will to love our Jesus, the struggle against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. what eyes can’t see, but nonetheless so much more real than what eyes do see.”
Watching the official ending of my childhood, along with millions of other twenty-somethings now around the world, I thought about the parallel again: what it means to die for witches and wizards who live in the alternate universe where things unseen and inexplicable defying the laws of physics not only exist but rule. For those with power – that breaks down enchanted protections, forces into the minds and secrets and darkness of helpless people, even cast curses to bring up dead bodies to motion – even for those death comes. Just as it comes for the good guys. James and Lily die. Severus dies. Dumbledore dies. Harry dies.
Of course I cheered for the protagonists, for the good to triumph over evil, for Harry to beat that personification of everything that’s wrong in the world named Voldemort. More than ever we need a story of heroes and villains. But that’s not why I’m writing about it here.
What’s nagging at me has more to do with an obscure Bible verse on the epitaph of Harry’s parents: “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death” (1 Corinthians 15:26). Harry learns that death isn’t the worst thing that can happen, via Dumbledore’s wise words – something Voldemort does not understand, just as he doesn’t understand how love can be more powerful that fear. ‘Tis true. The good guys here know something that most of us will agree to that we have things worth fighting for. We would like to tell ourselves in comfort that no one knows what’s on the other side – what the ghosts at Hogwarts hint at, past the veils, where it’s all light and white robes and Dumbledore with his wise words at Kings Cross. It must be magical. But pretty words about supernatural reality, mysterious even to those who conjure up fire and transfiguration spells, to me, are more unsettling than what the Death Eaters believe about this afterlife. At least they are honest about their fears. At least they have the integrity to be afraid of the judgment on their lives at the end of their ropes. No, they will flee death. They will defeat death. They will do anything they can, whatever is in their power – even dark magic, even torture, even murder – to escape the most frightening destiny on every living thing. So they quote, hoping in the terrible power of their dark lord, that death be swallowed up. The dark lord looks to Horcruxes, he looks to the Deathly Hollows, he seeks to master death.
I can’t say fear is the answer here. Neither has the whole truth. J K Rowling ain’t Jesus after all. I just wonder for Harry and his friends. Where do they hope to be at the end of the movie? When the end credits role, after Hermione passes away, after Harry becomes old and wrinkled, after they bury Mr Weasley, where will they go? The same place as Voldemort? As Sirius? Or are they no more? How do you go on when you can’t answer these questions? How do we continue to believe that all is right with the world when we have no clue as to what our true destination is, even with the help of this wonderful wizard who has kept us hoping for the last ten years of our childhood?
I don’t know. I’m not really trying to convince Mrs Rowling that she should’ve talked about heaven and hell in her books, that she should’ve stealthily – or not so stealthily – slip in some gospel action in the Hogwarts Express. I’m not even advocating for churchs to hate on all magical creatures because they worship Satan or whatever bullshit. It just fascinates me to think about the kind of collective moral and worldview we constantly subscribe to and then readjust for ease of our conscience, the sweet talk that death can’t be so bad. It’s a wonderful mystery. Everyone dies. It is what it is. What sad sad lies. And the saddest part is that even with Harry, our best hope – again, Dumbledore’s wise words – none of us venture further to question death like Voldemort does. We are ok with not knowing. We are ok with the smallest piece of scrap of hope that Harry lives at the end. That he’s defeated the dark lord. That he’s glimpsed the other side. And we leave the theatre with half empty popcorn bags – and smeared eye make up in my case – bittersweet, question still hanging: who shall destroy death for us? who will save us?
Dear Ms Amy Winehouse,
The morning of July 24, I woke up at my usual hour, sometime between eight and ten am. I was to work that lunch, meaning I must have gotten out of the house by fifteen to eleven at the latest – maybe I was late. Who remembers? During that thirty minutes to two hours of my morning ritual, I checked my crackberry social feeds for fb and Twitter updates, a compulsive habit to which I resort every other hour. The usual environmentally conscious hipster shit from Good.is, o so progressive criticisms by Hyphen magazine on the most racist headlines found, “friends” and their daily TMI moments like flossing and boring BART commutes. Yes the usual. Then there was Pitchfork, also a usual on free mp3s and Gucci Mane going to jail (again). But this one I read. It was about you. Well, it was about MIA actually, oops. But she mentioned you, isn’t that nice? The Tweet read: MIA Posts Track in Memory of Amy Winehouse. The queen of much adored hipster ethnic alternative global pop paid a tribute to all her friends who had passed away at the age of 27, appropriately titled 27. That was the age you ended your life by the way. My phone is powerful, but not enough to stream from Soundcloud on its browser. Actually listening to this track had to wait till I got to work and a line of Sunday brunch customers slowed down.
I listened to it once, only once, read the lyrics, thought about what drives someone to a life of self destruction, to willingly hand yourself over to death at such a glorious age as 27. Why did you not choose life, Amy? Why didn’t Eliott Smith? Why Kurt Cobain? Why?
A friend once asked me, do you believe in the direct relationship between inward torment and quality of musical output? I don’t know, do you? Is your songwriting a product of the years of secret sorrow in your inner jail cell? Did all your boyfriends and Mr Jones and the one who turned you back to black kill you again and again until you just had to revenge yourself with the lyrics of your albums? Booze and drugs, did you feel nothing? Or was it even more pain, more acute to the point of numbness? When your tour got canceled because you couldn’t sing the way you were destined to? Because you were great, Amy. I loved your voice. As cliché as this sounds, your songs kept me company when my own heart was broken. Your words spoke of my own pain to my pain in pain all the same altogether painful. You could’ve been legendary. You are now, some would say. Maybe it’s the youth that we mourn and whose loss elevates you to sainthood. A victim of the fame industry. A martyr. I can’t say. You can’t either.
I discovered Mr Smith well after his death, in 2005, my senior year in high school. From a promotional card lying around somewhere at a mall I used to go to with friends because there wasn’t anything else to do in the small town of Glendale. It was for his posthumous album, which I devoured through the free streaming Korean website about all things music – bless those golden days of a middle finger to the piracy is illegal bullshit. I raved about it so much so that my Secret Santa in journalism class had to buy me one. Of course that didn’t shut me up, I kept getting more of his songs. I even wrote a xanga tribute to his untimely end; “im in love with elliott smiths voice. i wish i knew him. i bet i couldve stopped him from killing himself. poor guy. how did a person, who is capable of creating such beautiful music, come to believe that his life is not worth it?”
Maybe you didn’t suffer from depression in the same way Mr Smith did, or anybody else for that matter. Who knows what drove you to watch yourself deteriorate? Are we going to blame rehab centers? The government? The industry? Nonetheless I want to ask for justice. Who is responsible for your death Amy? From whose hands will we demand your blood? Your own? Did you know that you will die when you took those pills? How could one know? The full consequences of our actions? I wish I had known you. I want to believe that I could’ve stopped you, saved you, kept you hopeful in the face of dreadful nightmares of withdrawals, nursed you back to health and genius that your voice deserved. I believe in beauty. I believe beauty deserves your proper mourning.
Believing in God and heaven and all, I know I can’t say rest in peace for you without lying about your eternity in hell. What a tragic way to end this post, not to mention your life. But thank you nonetheless, you’re continuing to keep me company in the thought of death and its place in life. The Economist gave you a typical obituary – I read it while waiting to board plane back to the East Bay after my grandpa’s funeral. I like the last line. I will end with that. Goodbye Amy. We regret you.
“Perhaps above all, her life was a lesson in the dangers of early, overwhelming fame – and an admonition to a popular culture that, like a primitive religion, revels in the destruction of its gods”
I don’t have any black dress
I should’ve written the second I got off the phone with mom. But the first thing I did when after I heard her tear soaked voice saying that grandpa died that morning was to call back my high school friends who had planned to drive up from so cal and visit me that day. Then I sat there finishing my half cooked steel cut oatmeal. Then I walked back to my room, went into my closet, and started packing. Packing here meant throwing whatever LA in August appropriate tank tops and shorts together, constantly asking myself what I had worn to my aunt’s funeral six years ago. And all I could think about was how I don’t have any black dress.
and the funeral:
I’m curious to find out
When you are flying home with no return ticket for a funeral, death won’t escape you. O you will try. You will try to devour every visible aspect of this phenomenon however slowly or however quickly they churn in your mind. Detached. Not letting emotions run amok. Not letting tears smear your black eyeliner and mascara to the point you can’t see the waxed face of a dead man, life all sucked out dry. Sunken eyelids where orbs of light are supposed to spin. The mouth where lips of any color have vanished, now just a shut door, gate, barricade never to be opened again. And I wonder how many days it will take for the body to start rotting. With all that preservatives needed to keep a corpse fresh for the two three four days of funeral services. When will the magic wear off? At what hour will the worms start crawling in and out of this military uniform? His skull? Tongue?
Even through my dad chocking over his own tears snots saliva. Even when my mom started her sob. Maybe watering of eyes for three seconds tops. I didn’t cry. And I knew this. I knew I could not would not cry at this man’s funeral. Probably since that one time I saw him sick and in pain. Uncontrollably bloated stomach – recovered quickly. Food poisoning – and whining out loud that he might die my sophomore year in high school. I cried with a fear of watching someone die in front of me. But I wondered then. Whether I could would cry when the day actually came. And now after the whole thing behind me and done with, I’m not sure I can even say that I will miss my grandpa. Because with all due respect – does this even apply here? – all I could think about during the three funeral services was how much of a lie was being told, for the sake of… respect for the dead? The elder? The tradition? Nonetheless, lies. The sincerity of his faith in a god who turned his only son into a financially unstable – therefore unsuccessful – minister and now a pseudo businessman, instead of the glorious – might I add the only – path of military service like him. The devotion to and love for his wife who passed away 30 years too early, yet no mention of a drunken one night stand lingering over a marriage annulment in his late 50s. The righteous disciplined life, which I’m sure no one will argue against, because in Korea waking up early and being stingy to others’ needs and not getting fat equal virtues – overriding the dozens of casino visits, stock market gambling, excessive shopping for gazillion suits and furniture and gadgets. We don’t want to mention these. I get it. What point are we making to ourselves when the mistakes become visible to everyone else too at the end of a person’s life? God is the only true judge
But as the pastors kept repeating “rewards in heaven,” I had to examine what the definition(s) I and the rest of this world have set up for ourselves. I dont wan’t to live in futility. In vain. I don’t want to end up like him
And with all the ranting I finally recognize the unresolved hate. Yes hate. For the man whom I may never see again. The pain he’s caused. The wrongs he’s made, will not cannot make right anymore. The lies. The lies the lies the lies. I am angry
Jesus how do we forgive dead people?
I’m coming back to talk this out with you Lord. I must learn forgiveness as much as I have and will continue to learn about death. Because if death really is only the beginning as you say, then this lie is but an infancy, the induction into eternity. And on the other side of the river, what I’ve thought was, definitely shall be, not. Every rule and idea and law and normalcy and acceptance and value and desire and fear and secret and shame will be no more. Hate forgiveness death all of em. I want to learn the ways of that other side now. I would rather spend the life here and now getting ready for the reality to come than indulging in the fleeting things of what my five senses confirm