Etching Granite

by Ray Colon on March 2, 2013 · 13 comments

Wilanow Cemetary by Thunderman83 (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Most of the details are known at the beginning. It’s just a matter of transferring the data from our first government document.

Name:

Born:

Only one factual detail remains to be revealed before the craftsman can begin the etching.

Died:

After that, all that’s left is the drafting of a few words to summarize our existence.

Husband, Father, Friend.

Add a modifier – “Beloved” is a popular one – and we’re done.

____________________

We shared a womb.

It wasn’t long after I moved out that you moved in. There were four others, but they may as well have occupied a different space for all that you and I ended up having in common with them. Two were early tenants; one took your place four months after your exit; the last – the only girl – turned off the lights during her slippery departure.

You were left-handed, which seemed odd to me for some reason. When you tried to mimic my passion for sports, something always seemed to get lost in the translation. It was never your thing – the catching, throwing, shooting, smacking, and chasing of balls from early morning until sunset, but you were willing to try because it was my thing.

During the 70s, your Afro was bigger and better than mine. You also had a fashion sense that escaped me. The combination of your personal flair and the disco era in which we grew up in yielded some wild outfits. You were the first one to flat iron your hair. I refused to go along in the beginning, but soon came around. I can still smell the burnt hair from the hot metal comb. We even tortured our scalps with those awful lye relaxers. Those memories of the senses are still vivid and still laughable.

We’d go clubbing on the weekends. You were a real ladies man. Never bashful, your rap would include some of the most outrageous things a person could say – but it worked.  It seemed to work all of the time!  The heat that I felt in my face when approaching a girl was something that you couldn’t understand.  For you, it was easy to not be afraid. I was amazed by – and a little jealous of – your bravado.

In the years near the end, you battled your demons as best you could. You drifted in and out of our lives as you saw fit. I always wanted you to do better, but it was your life to live. When we got together, you never wanted to talk about those things. You wanted to laugh, reminisce, play, and talk of dreams and the good times still to come. You wanted some cash, if I could spare it. You wanted what we all want – you wanted to be happy.

I got a call saying that you were in the hospital. I promised to visit, but not today. I was too tired and too busy and too stupid to realize that your illness was that serious. The next call delivered the horrible news.

In less than a month, it’ll be four years since you died. April Fools’ Day, 2009. A trickster like you would have appreciated the irony. For me, it’s a tragic reminder that today is all that we have.

____________________

St. Patrick's Cathedral, New York by Sujit kumar (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By the time the etching is completed, everything that we have learned or failed to learn throughout our lives no longer matters. We may have helped people when we had the opportunity or we may have chosen to be of no help at all – to anyone. Both roads lead to the same place. When I allow myself to think about it, neither choice seems to have any meaning.

The measure of a person can be found in the volume of tears that are shed; the inspiration provided that pushed another forward; or the memories that linger.

To some the end comes as a relief, because a life of suffering and pain is no way to live. For most of us, I suspect, the end will come as a complete surprise – an idea half-conveyed, an accident in slow motion, or a night’s sleep that never ends.

Who will cry? Who will shrug?

Depending on what you believe, that day will mark the beginning of a new life or the absolute end of everything. Because we live in a world of infinite marvels, it’s difficult for me to believe that there isn’t something else; some other existence found on a different plane.

But that may just be wishful thinking.

It’s just as likely that the end is like the dropping of a curtain. The music may be the most fantastic you have ever heard, but when the curtain falls that final time, the show is over.

The intellectual contortions required by the faithful are for the living. We are the ones who need to be reassured.

Like everyone else, I can only guess at what happens next. Anyone who tells you otherwise is pulling your leg. Many will claim to know. Some will point to a book and read a passage aloud. Others will recite the words from memory. Either way, they will deliver the “good news of salvation” with a level of confidence that belies rationality.

As proven by every hoax that has ever been played upon the public, people are all too willing to believe anything.

So we visit the etched granite. We hope that there is more to this crazy journey. We fear that there isn’t.

We stand there and picture ourselves beneath one just like it, then shudder and return to the living of our lives – leaving that worry for another day.

Author Bio:

Ray Colon has written 167 posts on Ray's Blog.

He works with numbers for a living, but don't judge - boring accountants need love too. His blog has no niche (unless writing about things that are important to him is a niche). Some folks cringe when he gets “all political” on them, but he does it anyway when he's in that kind of mood. Sometimes, he writes something nice about someone, but you shouldn't get used to that. His first book, the one he hasn't written yet, is not available on Amazon. Subscribe to Ray's Blog via RSS  or Email.

Send Ray an Email if you have a question. He may even respond.

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Teresa Evangeline March 2, 2013 at 1:00 pm

Beautifully expressed… universal, yet singular in its expression. You’ve got me remembering and I’m glad… I’ve tweeted this.

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Ray Colon March 2, 2013 at 1:32 pm

Hi Teresa,

I didn’t know where I was going with this… still don’t know for sure. These disparate thoughts have churned inside for a long time, in fragmented bits and pieces, until I released them today. I’m glad that it brought about remembering for you. Thanks for sharing!

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Julia March 2, 2013 at 3:16 pm

Not fiction, right? If so, sorry for your loss. It’s unbelievably difficult and heart breaking to let someone you love make choices that mean you lose them early.

On the meaning of life and the possibility of salvation, it’s funny, I literally just said ‘no thanks’ to an elderly couple who quietly knocked at the door and invited me to an event where, as their pamphlet promised, Jesus would save us all. From what? I wondered, but we smiled politely, and they looked relieved that I was up front with a no. Better than to say outright that the eternal fires of hell are a product of our imaginations.

Liking what you say about the measure of a person: tears, inspiration and memories. It’s more elegant than my thoughts on the subject. We move ideas and bodily fluids, reproduce and raise, and as far as I can see, don’t have much more of a purpose. The miracle is that we can witness ourselves and the world we live in, OK, a tiny, heavily filtered part; tinker with our responses, and experience joy (balanced of course by misery). What a thing to know so much about ourselves, and at the same time so little. Who can blame us for pretending we’re never going to die?

Always good to read your two cents on the world.
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Ray Colon March 2, 2013 at 4:03 pm

Hi Julia,

Right, not fiction. Thank you for your words of condolence. You’ve gone straight to the heart of the matter. We want to intercede, but we know that doing so would probably just drive them away. We do it anyway and learn that lesson the hard way.

Your story about the elderly couple reminded me of when my wife was in the hospital last year. She was seriously ill and in an induced coma for several days. I was beside myself with worry, but despite my religious upbringing, I did not find myself turning to prayer. All I could think about, in terms of her chances for recovery, was the good reputation of the hospital and the presumed competency of her doctors. Upon regaining consciousness, the hospital chaplain paid her a visit. His question: “Do you want to pray together?” caused us both to pause. She finally nodded. What was intended as a comforting gesture was just awkward given what we truly believe — or don’t believe.

What a thing to know about ourselves, indeed, as “we move ideas and bodily fluids.” Ha, good one. Our questions will always outnumber the answers. I guess that that’s the way that it should be. That we never stop asking our questions is probably important too.

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Janice
Twitter:
March 2, 2013 at 6:53 pm

I love your honesty in thought. People often do not want to admit that we really do not know. The unknown is scary and it is impossible for us to wrap our minds around a complete ending or an everlasting life of some sort.

Faith is for the living, as is hope, wonder and curiosity. Regardless, you made me realize – it is not the ending that matters most, because all endings end good or bad. It is what is done before the ending. The life one leads, the laughter one brings, the help offered, the kindness extended, the enjoyment when someone gets it or doesn’t. Life does not provide promises, it provides opportunities. Death is a window that allows us to reflect upon the life we have.

I was moved by your post and can relate in so many ways. My mind leans to there being something after. I need to hope that and have faith in that. We live in an amazing world filled with surprising things.

Thank you for writing and sharing this.
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Ray Colon March 2, 2013 at 8:56 pm

Hi Janice,

The things that I don’t know eclipse the things I do know by a long shot.

My hope, wonder, and curiosity are plentiful. It’s that other one that I have my doubts about, but lining them up together, as you’ve done, adds a sense of balance to the questioning. When I reflect, I try to be pragmatic. A happy ending isn’t an expectation for me. Instead, I see that as just one of many possibilities. While it may sometimes seem that I emphasize the dark side, in reality I’m just giving it its due, since there are plenty of everything-is-sunshine-all-the-time folks representing the other side.

Thank you for letting me know that the post affected you. Earlier today, I retweeted a tweet by ‏@JohnJGeddes that spoke to what I hope to achieve when I write. It read: “The true artist never wants praise, but understanding – to know his heart has touched another – that his words have not fallen to the ground.” That sums it up nicely.

Your tweet of this post was terrific! It’s appreciated.

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Brenda March 4, 2013 at 11:33 am

Ray – when my dad was battling Cancer I was lost in the whys. He was pious man, dedicated and faithful until he drew his last breath. His last year was unbearable for me. FOR ME. I can’t imagine what my dad felt like. I couldn’t and wouldn’t ask because the words stuck in my throat. I could only sit by his side and wonder why. I lived in my head that year talking in my head to the Universe. Why? It was exhausting. I had no understanding of what was ahead or why the disease was ravaging my dad’s body or why his God was ignoring him. Long after he passed I accepted there are reasons we will never know the why of, and could if we wanted spend our life looking for answers, but in the end we won’t find them. I don’t know what is around the corner but I certainly have the imagination to dream it, and do, but while I’m still here.. I live it. Your post is evocative. I’m not sure if I am happy with you or not. :-)
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Ray Colon March 4, 2013 at 12:39 pm

Hi Brenda,

I’m sorry that your father, you, and and everyone else who loved him were so devastated by the prolonged feeling of helplessness brought about by his illness. I can relate to your finding that the words got stuck in your throat. You want to know what your dad was thinking and you don’t want to know at the same time. It’s difficult enough to get a grip on what we ourselves are thinking, let alone to hope to comprehend what was going through your dad’s mind. Thanks for sharing this very personal story.

For me, asking the questions — especially the unanswerable ones — forces me to dig deeper and consider things further, rather than accepting things as presented. Not knowing, even when I recognize that I can’t know, only teases me keep searching.

Of course, I would choose that you were happy with me, but I’m kind of liking that you’re not sure. :)

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Brenda March 4, 2013 at 12:54 pm

I don’t think of it as being too personal anymore. I had always wanted to be a writer, but it took his passing and a promise, to propel me forward. As a writer you can’t help but ask questions and wonder while you wander in and out of your mind onto the page. It’s a curse and a blessing. I think I think too much sometimes.. if that makes any sense, which is why I am not sure I am happy to have read your post this morning.
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Jean March 5, 2013 at 11:12 pm

And sometimes someone is writing their own etching very slowly and others near by are not aware. Do not detect the person’s misery, depths of despair.

Then the person is gone. Like a sister of mine.
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Ray Colon March 6, 2013 at 8:34 am

Hi Jean,

Very insightful. So sad to know that this was your sister’s experience. There may be hints, but I think that people can become pretty adept at hiding their depression. We can easily misinterpret the signals as merely sadness that will pass.

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Alicia March 7, 2013 at 8:26 pm

” “The true artist never wants praise, but understanding – to know his heart has touched another – that his words have not fallen to the ground.” ”

I understand. Your words touch me, and I understand.

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Ray Colon March 8, 2013 at 8:55 am

Hi Alicia,

Thank you. That’s the best that I could hope for. At times, it’s not forced and comes from someplace deep inside. Those are the times when I wish for the words to be received inside the reader as well.

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