Well, Kati, we finally got rid of those two burn piles. Watching them burn, and especially watching the smoke rise and slowly disappear, inspired me to enjoy that (perhaps) uniquely human experience, “wonder.” I began to wonder where the smoke went. Now I wonder if you ever wonder. I know you are only a cat, but I also know I often see you sitting apparently lost in thought, quite unlike either Midnight or Spencer, who wander incessantly in search of adventure. You Kati, are my (almost) constant companion and the only one I can talk to (you are a really good listener), and you stay here close to home.
I more or less understand where the smoke comes from, formerly living trees and bushes, now dead and burning. Only two things result from this process, ashes and smoke. The ashes lie there in full view, but the smoke rises and drifts away eventually disappearing entirely. But does it truly disappear? Perhaps it just becomes invisible but still exists in some form out there in the atmosphere.
This question led me (inevitably?) to the question of mortality, or, more precisely, immortality. As I do not believe in what most people think of as “souls,” I don’t believe souls hover around influencing the living one way or another. On the other hand it does seem to me that when a person dies his or her influence does remain for some time, perhaps even forever in some cases (Shakespeare, for example). This is so because of the millions of interactions one has had with others throughout one’s lifetime, interactions that were experienced by others and therefore incorporated in one way or another into their lives. I wonder, for example, how I might have influenced the many hundreds (more like thousands) of students I had over the course of some thirty years. Likewise, the influences I must have had with friends and acquaintances, in some cases more intense relationships than others, but present nonetheless. Then, of course, there are the material things one might have left behind, poems, books, personal stories, works of art, and so on. What one has done during his or her lifetime lives on in some sense after their death. Perhaps there might come a time when their influence, having been basically invisible in this way for a time, does completely disappear. Quite likely some individuals remain invisibly influential longer than others. One does, no doubt, hope their influences on others have been more positive than negative (in sum total, at least).
Kati, you are such a great listener, never interrupting, arguing, heckling, just lying there quietly on my lap, content just to “be.” You know Kati, when a person dies it’s basically no different than when any other living thing dies, except when it comes to the disposal of the corpse. Humans have devised all sorts of ingenious ways to deal with dead bodies: they can be buried in the ground, thrown in the water, left exposed to nature, mummified, smoked, eaten, and cremated. And you see, Kati, when a person is cremated it’s just like the burn piles, there remain a few ashes but the “essence,” so to speak, goes up in the smoke, becomes invisible, but still exists out there in some form along with the essences of all who of have died previously. I guess in this very limited sense we might say that we do, indeed, eventually join our loved ones.
Here is one of my favorite poems:
“Under the wide
and starry sky
Dig the grave and let me lie:
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.
This be the verse you grave for me:
Here he lies where he
long'd to be;
Home is the
sailor, home from the sea,
And the hunter
home from the hill.”
I love the sentiment but I confess the thought of a grave I find terrifying. I cannot imagine being confined in a dark box buried underground (no matter how comfortable or elegant the box). I quite definitely want to go wherever it is the smoke goes.
Let no one weep for me, or celebrate my funeral with mourning; for I still live, as I pass to and fro through the mouths of men.