04 May 2015

What is that song you sing for the dead?

Martha's birthday

Oh death, you hector me, decimate those dear to me. 

The last few weeks have been saturated with death: people dying, or waiting to die. Songs about death and realisations that some people are closer to death than others. We turn a corner at some point where people's moms and dads start to die. It's happened twice now in the last six months. It won't stop happening.

When I was in high school, I was responsible. People thought of me as responsible. I played worship songs on the guitar while my girlfriend sang, and people looked up to us. I didn't smoke or drink or run with people who did. In our youth group, I was a leader of some colour family: we had 'family' groups that were assigned a colour. You could be in the blue family or the red family. There were two adult leaders, a male and a female, and then two youth leaders.

One night in September or October, we went bowling as a family and although it was church policy that students not drive to these events (or at least, as I recall it being explained to me), I was trusted to pack a car full of students and make our way down to Mundelein. Somewhere along the way, I had the idea that it would be funny to put Amos in the trunk of my car. We stopped at a light and I said, Amos, you want to get in the trunk of the car, and of course, Amos obliged and I hopped out into the rain and opened the trunk and he jumped inside.

The idea, of course, was that we would arrive at the bowling alley and Amos would jump out of the trunk to everyone's delight. He did, although I remember the joke falling flatter than it should have. Look! It's Amos! In the trunk of the car! None of the girls were impressed or interested.

I went to get my shoes at the counter and remember seeing Lori, one of the adult leaders, come angrily in the door of the bowling alley and make her way towards me. She had been driving the car behind us and didn't think this was funny at all: what if we were in an accident. I remember thinking, as responsible kids do, I hadn't thought of that. I felt horrible for days and days and ended up writing her a letter to apologise. I'm sorry, Ms Bergin, you had trusted me and I failed.

When I had my first daughter, Naomi, she gave the letter back to me, smiling and knowing. I was absolved now, I would understand in time.

Naomi and I walk up to the High Street yesterday. I owed her one, one pound coin that she had given me the other night. I get the money and we buy a secret treat. The sun is going down late now and all the red brick glows from eight until nine. Well-dressed middle class men and women coming in and out of the Junction.

We pass a sign that said: Does God exist? Yes, No, or Probably. Naomi says, Daddy, which one would you tick? I don't know, I say, and we walk on a bit before I ask her. Yes, she says, I think there's a god. We get talking about heaven and I finally tell her the truth, that no, I didn't think there is a god or a heaven, but it is fine if she thinks there is: most people do. She doesn't seem bothered by this. What happens when you die? she askes me, and I say, Well, what was it like before you were born? Naomi thinks and says, I don't remember, and I say, it's sort of like that, I suppose. You don't remember.

She thinks again and I say, How is your new school, you've changed schools a lot? I help her climb up to hang on the fence of the Cerebral Palsy home where a woman was earlier shouting out at us. If I have to change schools again, I think I'll kill myself. I have the urge to chastise her, to tell her not to say that, but I try not to, I've been trying not to. Why's that? Because it's hard, and there are new people. She jumps off the fence and we walk the rest of the way home. You'll be okay, I say. You'll be okay.

There's some scientific research to be done on how much we lie to our children. I'm trying to lie less. Play the long game, when and if I can. It's impossible with books about Jesus lying around and prayers that must be said in school. This word, hector. We are hectored by death, but more so by the remedies we accept to alleviate its pain. All the songs and words and myths. There is no shade in the shadow of the cross. We just fall asleep. Do we. The bells of the church chime again, on the quarter of the hour. You can hear them, like a call to prayer.
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