Monday, October 26, 2009

Mortality in a Box

Yikes! I hadn't realized it's been THREE MONTHS since I last posted! My apologies! I'll spare you the excuses. Suffice it to say: I'm in a good place when I'm writing. And I'm not when I'm not. Bear with me!


I was not an ordinary kid. I was always a grown-up in a kid's body. Later I got a grown-up body and reduced the dissonance a bit. I have always been very serious. During my early years I worried about things that should be excluded by the stereotypic ideal of a "carefree childhood".

I had that startling moment of realization of my own mortality at the age of ten! This has always seemed cruelly early to me -- especially in light of some people I know who didn't have that dark, existential experience until they were in their 40's!

I remember the day. Double sets of bunk beds in "the bunk room" at our lake house. Barbequed chicken on the patio for dinner. With corn on the cob. And Dr. Pepper in a can. The hum of motorboats in the distance. A happy, light-hearted setting. Yet somehow, around twilight, I wandered into the bunkroom where one thought led to another and then another and another and then my mind conjured up the thought: "SOMEDAY I'M GOING TO DIE!" The entire atmosphere of the earth seemed to reverberate with the shock of this thought. Me. Anne. This body. This mind. This life. Will one day DIE! And be no more. And then what? Darkness? Oblivion? A heaven that I could not imagine? My delicate ego could not grasp the end of ME. A tsunami of panic swept through my body. My vision shut down to a tunnel for a minute. Darkness closed in on me.

Somehow I got ahold of myself and managed to go on with existence among the living. But I think I've wrestled with my fear of mortality ever since in the form of anxiety, depression, spirituality, related studies, and a fascination with the paranormal that, if I had been informed of it as a kid, would have had my youngster self hiding under the bed for the rest of my childhood!

Maybe I needed the early preparation. My mother died when I was 23. She was just 48. Not fair. Cruel. Very, VERY cruel, in fact!

I've buried many, many loved ones since. Sometimes I feel like Matt and I spent most of our 15 years together burying people. My house is full of relics of those I love who have gone on.

Two weeks ago Mark and I buried his father. I actually enjoyed the time I got to hang out with his body at the funeral home. I added roses to the floral sprays and just relished the last of my time with his physical presence. Not scary anymore. But still profoundly confusing.

When I think back on that summer evening at the lake when I was 10 and realized my own mortality, an image comes to mind. On the dresser in that bedroom was a box that was my beloved grandmother's. The size, a circumference adult hands could encircle. Gold laquer. Half base, half lid. Just a trinket from my grandparents exotic travels, I'm sure. A black Scotch tape scar across the top where the lid was taped down as it was transported from one place to another.

I don't know why I remember that it was in that room. I don't know why the box was in the room in the first place or why my grandmother had put it there when there was little else of her personal effects in this house that had been furnished by the previous owners. I don't know why that box has became associated with the realization of mortality for me. I do know one thing though: there's God in it all. Because, inside that gold laquered box, if you lift the lid, is the painted inky blackness of its interior (another symbolic reference to oblivion somehow?) and, painted on the bottom of the box, hidden away, deep in this symbol of mortality, is a BUTTERFLY! Of all things! A butterfly! That glorious creature that transcends lowly life on earth by sinking into the virtual death of cocooned dormancy only to emerge anew, transformed, and with the gift of flight!

I don't know about you, but, for me, that's God telling a terrified little girl that there are glorious wonders beyond this life that we won't know until we open the box or until we emerge from apparent death into the other side! It just took me until I was 35 to realized the message contained in my grandmother's box. The comfort, the promise, had been there all along!

I keep the butterfly box on a shelf in my library. Next to a black and white photo of my mother. Near all my books on sprituality, reincarnation, near-death experiences, ghosts, and various religions. It clearly belongs in the company of these tomes that help me wrestle with my mortality ponderings. Beside a ceramic box shaped like a miniature vintage telephone (for communicating with the beyond, perhaps?). And next to it is an oval box, made of brass. When my birthgrandmother died many years ago, my birthmother chose that box for me from her mother's belongings. She wanted me to have something of Granny's. It is the only thing I have that was hers (I didn't get to know her very well). Inside of it I keep the only gift she ever gave me -- a string of blue and white china beads that she sent me for my college graduation (I was deeply touched by the gift at the time). And on the lid of the box, affixed to yet another shiny, circular, gold-toned box belonging to one of my dear grandmothers, is a silver BUTTERFLY! It seems that God is in cahoots with my grandmothers (and my mother!) to give me comfort and promises of something wonderful beyond!

Peace and blessings to you all!