Death is with us. The out-breath to our in-breath.
The hand twined in mine as I fall asleep, the arm over my shoulder when I wake.
Death: is she handsome? Is she ugly?
I examine my face in the mirror for years, unable to decide.
At the wake, I walked up to the casket. She was lovely but stiff, like bubbles held her limbs away from her chest, from each other. My hand, when I took it away from the still-soft white curls, burned with the chill of her skull. Only death could be so cold.
My father said, “That’s not my mother in there.”
I want to be like Oliver, and step through the door with curiosity. All I feel now is an accepting dread.
To be curious about life is to be curious about death, and to enter it as I enter each day, striving to be attentive and to attend. But will this entering be like the slow wade into the morning swimming pool, one inch at a time, the thread-thin line of sensation now above my ankles, over my knees, washing my belly button, grazing my collar-bones, before I plunge my head under and the spray of my first kicks and strokes bursts forth?
Or will it be like the sudden dive, the ones we practice by beginning on the rough concrete, pounding forward, bare feet slapping the deck and then the beautiful arc of a body fully possessed of itself, before it loosens into partnership with the water, momentum realized?
All pictures are from a public cemetery in Gimpo City. Interestingly, the cemetery seems to be Christian, since nearly all the memorial stelae, or headstones, had crosses. The entire hill was covered in the most amazing harmonization of traditional Korean burial practices and forms of ancestral worship combined with a relatively new religion, Christianity. Judging by the size of the Catholic cathedral just down the street from the cemetery, my guess is that it’s a Catholic cemetery. The Catholic Church in Korea has displayed greater tolerance for hybrid life-cycle ceremonies and practices, going so far as to hold “49-day Masses,” when the 49-day ceremony is the typical Buddhist memorial for sending a deceased individual on to their next birth after the bardo stage. The rounded graves and the stone stelae are both typical of Korean Confucian burial practices, as are the flat altars in front of the burial mounds for offering food and drink to the ancestors on memorial days. I saw paper cups with drink and both fruit and bread offerings in front of graves that had crosses on the stelae, indicating the interesting fusion of beliefs and forms happening here.
I walked through the cemetery after I finished taking my (all-day) exam for full precepts. The cemetery was quiet, peaceful, and situated to receive the last afternoon light. I didn’t bring my camera, so I took pictures with my iPhone using Instagram. Instagram is addictive, and something I’m already cautioning myself about over-using. I’ve always liked graveyards. The dead are ubiquitously unquarrelsome, at least in hearing of the living, and perhaps, having suffered judgement both real and imagined, less inclined to harsh opinions.