“As the sound of ranchera music from Esta Noche blasted me to sleep, I thought of the skull lodged in my own head. How it would one day emerge after everything that could be recognized as Caitlin–eyes, lips, hair, flesh–was no more. My skull might be crushed too, fragmented by the gloved hand of some hapless twentysomething like me.”
-Caitlin Doughty, Smoke Gets In Your Eyes: and Other Lessons from the Crematory, in describing the night after she first held a human skull.
Okay, so: I’m going to die. Not soon, I think, unless we’re talking on a geologic or cosmic scale–but sooner or later the Scythe of the Shadow will swing, the last gain in my hourglass will fall, the bucket will be soundly kicked, and the rest, as the poet said, will be silence.
Except it won’t. In that same moment, somewhere, someone will say, “It smells terrible in here,” and someone else will say “I love you,” and someone else, I hope, will laugh while reading Smoke Gets In Your Eyes. Not to mention the crows who will go on crowing and the ducks who will go on ducking beneath the water and the fish (barracudas, perhaps) who will go on fishing. I’ve heard lots of people talk about how humans come to grips with the reality of their own death. (Maybe the fact that I wrote “sooner or later” means that reality, in my mind, is still behind a gossamer curtain of youth). In the middle of her book about life, death, what cremation and embalming actually look like, and why a culture should pay attention to all that, Ms. Doughty brings us close to that conversation. She brings us next door, not to the moment of our death, but to a moment afterward, when someone else is living.
I’m glad she made me imagine that moment. I’m glad she made me wonder about my own skull: what it will look like, where it will be when Azlan’s thoughts aren’t flashing around (and around and around) inside it anymore. My end isn’t the end of the world. There will be someone who moves my body, and then goes on with the day. There will be night clubs playing ranchera music. I hope there will be barracudas. That’s reassuring, and that reminds me to think about the world I’ll leave behind for the someone who picks up my skull.