The King is Dead! Long Live the King!– a guest post by David Pascoe
This isn’t political. Or at least, not overtly. You see, we buried my grandfather recently. He’d lived a good, long life. He served aboard ships in the Pacific in WWII. My grandmother gave me his dog tags (me being the only other in two generations to serve in the military), and I found an old silver bracelet of his with his name on the front and his serial number on the reverse. It’s around my wrist as I type this.
There were a lot of tears on that overcast Friday afternoon, as we put Mor Far’s (Swedish for “mother’s father”; he had four daughters, so all his grandspawn could call him that) mortal remains in the sandy soil of the Nevada hills, in that little national cemetery. My father spoke at the graveside. Probably some of the best words he’s spoken in a long career as a counselor and pastor, and I’m proud of him.
My grandfather was very patriotic, and not a little conservative. I joked that his casket was haze gray (and underway *rimshot*), and Fallon NAS sent a couple of young ratings to fold his flag and present it to my grandmother. That Mrs. Dave and I had to refold it between the party afterward and the after-party is no comment on them. Those guys were fantastic; folding a flag you’ve never folded before can be dodgy, and they didn’t have time to test it. Even better were the veteran volunteer group who provided the color guard and fired the salute. I’m pretty sure that had the weather been the least bit more hospitable, they’d have shown up on the backs of a mess of motorcycles. Which would have been fun. After, the speechifying and the ceremonying, Mor Far’s five grandsons (and one great-grand, for parity) escorted the casket to the waiting backhoe thingy. We wore his favorite garb: denim and plaid flannel. In addition, I wore a hat, because I’m stylin’ that way.
Once the dust was returned to the dust, we went back to one of the several abodes available, and spent several hours telling stories about Mor Far. His daughters spoke of growing up with him. His sons-in-law remembered to us what it was like to try to work their way into the family. The younger generations told of his jokes, puns and games. I think he taught us all how to play Cribbage, though I don’t know that many of us ever beat him. A running thread was of his support for literacy. He’d spent many years as a library administrator. Most of the gifts I received from my grandparents were books, often signed by the authors and illustrators. This trend continued, with Mor Far frequently making books suggestions that I wish I’d paid more attention to. He did introduce me to Louis L’Amour, to my enrichment.
After the party (and the flag refolding) many of us repaired to my parents’ home for the after-party, where we continued to talk to each other about life and our patriarch for several hours until everybody disappeared into the night. The next day we had the memorial service. Then the after-party, where we had more of the same. And lots of food. Several of us ended up outside around a fire-pit singing songs. After that, back to my parents’ where I mixed several Old Fashioneds and Gin/Tonics. My cousins and I talked about guns. We hashed over some of our frustrations with American and global society. We imbibed. I took to call it SnowCon, as the entire weekend felt like one big party. (There was hardly any snow; Snow is my grandfather’s surname.)
I’m not fishing for sympathy, or trying to talk up a man none of you knew. Part of this is my working out of my own grief, and I beg your indulgence for it. Our society doesn’t handle death and grief well, and this is – in my not terribly humble opinion – one of the better representations of how to do it I’ve run across. The clan gathered, honored the dead, and had a great time. Tears were wept, guffaws were laughed, and we celebrated the life of our patriarch. There isn’t really anything terribly tragic about an 88-year-old dying from old age, but the very immediacy of it gives an impact out of all proportion to Mor Far’s general lack of notoriety.
Death is part of our world, and we – as a society – have tried to limit our exposure to it. To our own detriment, I expect. (Just give it time.) We worship youth and the beauty of it. We’re constantly trying to lose weight, get stronger, get fitter, look younger, have better hair, etc. Our celebrities look decades younger than they should, and that breeds imitation. For goodness sake, almost the entire plastic surgery industry is based on the idea that you can use a knife to stay young-looking!
We do this to our food. Almost nobody slaughters their own animals anymore. I understand that if you want to sell meat, The Law requires you take your animals to a certified abattoir for “processing.” Most Americans have no idea what the blood and shit stink of violent death smells like. (I certainly don’t, though I know several of the Huns do.) We just know that cows eat grass and make more cows and milk and end up on our plate as steak or hamburger. And honestly, most of us are likely just fine with that divorce.
But it’s hurting us.
Perhaps if we knew better what death was, fewer of us would be interested in forcing others to try to solve problems. Maybe a few more people would harp less about suffering, and do more to alleviate it. Y’know, on a personal level. Lord knows, as long as humans are still human, we’re not going to rid our species of pain. And wouldn’t that be a lovely place to live? No wants, all needs fulfilled, and nobody feels pain anymore. Likewise, no innovation, no incentive to work harder (or at all) and – worst of all – no instant accountability. Stupidity should hurt, and when you live a bit closer to the bone, it does. Stop paying your bills, and angry people come looking for the money you owe them. Stop treating your fellow citizens like human beings, worthy of respect in their own right, and you’ll get locked up. Probably beaten silly and possibly killed, in the bargain. (Looks like I strayed into politics. Oops.)
Death is a fact of life. (Yeah, yeah, and taxes. Darn-it. If only I hated roads…) Just as it’s a fact that those in positions of power are most likely to be those who are least connected to the reality we live in. History is replete with examples. Recent history, even. Say, immediate history. *cough* And Death (WHO SPEAKS IN ALL CAPS) always catches up in the end. It just so happens that those with the greatest ability to avoid it in its myriad of faces throughout life are often those who end up bringing it to others in unspeakable numbers. Again, see recent history.
And there’s always another king waiting in the wings.
Yeah, I’m not entirely satisfied with that ending. So what if there’s another would-be-autocrat looking run things according to his (or her, leave us not be sexissss (or hir, as we wouldn’t want to be cis-issss, wait a sec – what are you doing with that carp?)) personal whims? Or those whims he was taught he should have, as a right-thinking person of goodthinky-ness. Look, we of all people know this. Such are a long-standing tradition in scifi and fantasy. Further, it seems like most of them come to ignoble ends, too. (Though let’s not tell the current crop of hopefuls that, shall we?)
What’s our place, then? What for, therefore, is that therefore there for? We keep on as we have been. We know that it’s the magic in our words that changes people for good or ill. Take Marx (please!), or a certain canny Arab from a few centuries back. On the other side of things, take Siddhartha Gautama or that Nazarene guy. And we humble few march in their footsteps, looking to make the world a better place.
Not buying what I’m selling? Look, you, we tell stories. Important stories about people doing people-things, and getting sucked into Great Events. Sometimes they screw up, sometimes they get screwed up (if they’re very, very lucky, they get well screwed in the process). In our stories, they typically come out on top, for a given value of victory. What our world needs from us, we tellers of tales, is stories that grab the imagination and teach us that life is worth living, and to the full.
So who cares which fundament is currently warming the throne. We know that the wizards have the best job. And with so much less heavy lifting, too.
OT Note — this is Sarah — Mike Williamson asked me to share this: