Farting around with death …

January 12, 2008

I think I was a very serious child. While I played with Matchbox cars, pretended to be Green Lantern, and explored the woods, I also did a lot of thinking. I thought too much then, I think too much now.

I remember long, mournful, “funerals” in the driveway, playing in the gravel before my father got home. I don’t know if these were local commercials or not, but there used to be some old phone book commercials which said, “let your fingers do the walking through the Yellow Pages.” I used my hands as people, my fingers walking, walking. They walked through the gravel, they died in the gravel, they were buried in the gravel. Sometimes, my hands were magically resurrected, especially if we had recently been told the story of Lazarus at Sunday School. But mainly, they died, and I would hum a sorrowful liturgy, sometimes to the point of tears in my eyes. I thought of death and dying, of losing my parents, grandparents, my dog. I thought of me dying too, and what people might say, and how they would miss me and my mother would cry and how awful I would feel if I were dead, and how I would miss them all.

Those are dark thoughts for a 5 year old in kindergarten.

Like it does most children for periods, and many adults, death obsessed me. What was it exactly? I was brought up in a Baptist church that, as soon as I could think for myself, I became disenchanted with. As I grew into adolescence, I began to read about the history and practices of Christianity, Islam, Buddhism. There were more esoteric religions, like Zorastorism, and to me at the time, Hinduism. Was the afterlife dependent on what you believed? Who was right? Was anyone? Imagine the surprise upon dying that what you had been taught was wrong!

It finally occurred to me, or rather, it seeped into me, that death was nothing more than, well, nothing. It was a part of life, but a cessation of life. Death was nothing, it was nothingness. I didn’t believe in a heaven, a hell, an afterlife. If anything, I believed in a cycle of living, a cycle of birth, death, and rebirth of some sort. I wanted to believe that you became part of a cosmic consciousness.

It’s hard to let go of the uniqueness of your existence and accept the idea that you simply cease, that you simply stop, and there is no more you that is thinking about self-centered you. You always want to continue to exist, somehow. At least I do.

I became a less serious adult. Sometimes it seems as if I’m living in reverse. I think I’m pretty good at making people laugh. But inside, I’m still that serious little kid who thinks too much about too many serious things. I’m still that sometimes melancholy wonderer.

Serious and sometimes melancholy people are the best comedians. Maybe it’s because they’re simply more thoughtful. Or maybe it’s that they see the darkness better than light-hearted clueless people, and if that serious person is intelligent enough, they can take darkness and spin it into comedy. Comedy does better at the box office and has a wider audience.

An audience takes ‘serious’ comedy from serious people like they take the F-bomb from someone who hardly ever says it. In my office there is one lady that I’ve heard say the F-bomb twice in seven years, with dramatic effect. The weight of the F-bomb coming from her carries far more impact than it does coming from me, who uses it multiple times a day as a verb, noun, general exclamation and thought connector. One of my genuine regrets is having learned to curse. You lose a lot of language skills that way.

When I was growing up, my family didn’t even use the word fart. It was considered a dirty word. We used stinker, which somehow seems more embarrassingly comical now than fart.

When my uncle married into the family, he brought the word crap. This was near blasphemy, and provided wide-eyed surprise, but after a few years the word caught on. I knew it was safe to say when my two aunts began to use it. I think the word fart can even be said now, if quietly.

One summer my father was making a picnic table with that same uncle. Dad was nailing some boards together, hit his finger with the hammer, and said, “God damn it!”

My father was the son of a preacher! My world stopped for a few surprised seconds.

If my mother had heard, holy crap!


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