Monday, September 8, 2008

Visiting Inconceivable

Did you know that I am currently living in Kentucky with my mom and dad?

This weekend as we were driving around in the van after running errands, Lucy started asking us whether dinosaurs would eat us. We tried to explain that dinosaurs aren't around any more at which point she wanted to know where they went and when they were coming back. The whole conversation made me realize how mind bogglingly weird it is to think that there actually used to be 60 foot tall lizards walking around, right here, but now they are all gone. It sounds insane. Needless to say, Lucy wasn't having any of it and we ended up having to tell her that dinosaurs wouldn't eat us because they had to go home to their mom and dad and that they lived far away (I believe I suggested that they lived in Kentucky since this seemed like a state we are unlikely to visit any time in the near future).

Then today I had the privilege of attending the funeral of a science teacher who had worked for our park for fifteen years as an education specialist. I barely overlapped with Arnie Miller in my job. Soon after I started with the park, he retired. I do remember a couple of meetings with him to discuss the education programs at the park and I remember being impressed by his passion, knowledge, and dedication to science education. I went to the service today both because I remember Arnie fondly even if I didn't know him well but also because he was an integral part of the Division of Interpretation for 15 years and I am the Acting Chief so it seemed like a good thing to do.

The service was amazing. Arnie's whole family actually got up and talked about him and what a wonderful person he was. The temple was full of people who clearly loved Arnie and had been touched by his life. Many people talked about how much Arnie had loved nature, what a wonderful teacher he had been, and how devoted to his family he had been. Some of the descriptions of him (curious about everything, great listener, great conversationalist, extremely tolerant human being) reminded me of my own parents. Anyone who thinks communism isn't all bad but that extremism of all kinds is dangerous is o.k. in my book.

There are several things I wanted to say about this experience from my perspective. First, it was the first funeral that I have been to since I had my own kids and having kids put a whole different color to the service. It made me think about how my own children will think about me when I die and reminded me to strive to be a good parent to them and fill their lives with good memories that will be a comfort to them after I am dead.

Second, one of the things that people said about Arnie was that he never said anything bad about anyone. And I thought, "Wow, that is amazing. That is something to strive towards - putting less negativity out into the universe." One of Arnie's grandsons also mentioned that Arnie's last advice to him was "Stay close to nature. Enjoy nature. Stay close to your family. And forgive any bad things that have happened in your past." Sounds like pretty darn good advice.

Finally, one of the last parts of the funeral was the actual placing of dirt on the coffin at the cemetery. And let me tell you, this was no symbolic small scattering of a few particles of sand, this was hefting of full shovels full of heavy dirt onto a wooden coffin. It made an amazing spooky sound. It turns out that helping to bury your loved ones is actually a Mitzvah (a command from God) and was one in which most of us took part (I hefted my three shovels full of earth into the grave). And it is very serious. The family actually stayed behind after the ceremony to finish burying Arnie. It was extremely intense and was a VERY visceral confirmation of the temporariness of all things. Somehow the sound of that dirt hitting the coffin really drove home the reality that Arnie's body was in there and that all of us would end up, one way or another, in the earth.

If you know me, (and you probably do since I doubt anyone that doesn't know me is reading this) then you know that I have big issues with death. Primarily that I would prefer not to, die that is. Somehow this funeral, coming so close after my dinosaur discussion, just emphasized that human life is full of inconceivable truths. No wonder people believe all manner of crazy things when you think about all of the inconceivable things that are actually TRUE. You mean dinosaurs used to roam the earth? No way. You mean people have actually walked on the moon? No way. You mean I, and everyone I know and every living thing I have encountered will one day cease to exist? No way.

Dinosaurs and Death. It was an interesting visit to the Inconceivable, but I wouldn't want to live there.

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