Friday, April 2, 2010

Exasperating the Dead

I am continually amazed at the unlikely places that house Zen philosophies and thoughts. I seem to stumble upon them when I am least suspecting.

I just finished reading "Sing Them Home," a novel by Stephanie Kallos. It is about a family in Emlyn Springs, a small town in Nebraska with a history of tornadoes. In the first pages, we learn that the children's mother was at home one day when their physician father was at work and the children were at school. A tornado swept through, carrying their mother and the house off into the sky. Her body was never found, and to this day, the now-grown children refer to her passing not as "the day mom died" but as "the day mom went up."

The novel is framed with Greek chorus-like observations from the dead. Our novelist explains, first of all, that the dead are tetherless in time, existing entirely in the now. "They are blessed with an ability to be fully entraced by what's in front of them." As you can imagine, that's where my Zen radar started to pick up a blipping sound.

The passage continues:

No wonder the living are such a constant source of exasperation. The living - pathetically obsessed as most of them are with calendars, deadlines, delivery and expiration dates, estimated hours of departure and arrival; with measurements, quotas, statistics;; always casting their eyes toward the room beyond the room in which they're standing - exude this energy, for lack of a better word, that frustates the dead to distraction, makes them so nervous that they'd jump out of their skins if they had any.

The living are like spinning tops, powered by a need for atonement, or revenge, or by avoidance, guilt, shame, fear, anger, regret, insecurity, jealousy, whatever, it doesn't matter because it all derives from the same pop-psyche alphabet soup and oh Lord here comes another best-selling book on the self-help shelf when really if they would just smash all the time-keeping devices excepting sundials, do a crossoword puzzle, study the backs of their hands, notice their breath going in and out, drink their food and chew their water, relax, it would be a great step forward in the evolution of the species and the dead would be so grateful.

It's all right there - notice your breath going in and out. Get rid of the clocks and watches. Relax. Stop living like a spinning top.

And this in a novel about a Welsh community in a small town in Nebraska. With a few brief mentions of Judaism. Not a Buddhist in sight. Go figure.

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