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Pay now, die later

I’ve just purchased a cremation policy that guarantees that wherever I die, anywhere on the planet, and whenever that happens, I’ll be picked up, cremated, and the ashes will be scattered at sea, and each of my kids will get two copies of the death certificate (necessary to claim anything left in the bank, if there is anything). This presumes that the insurance company that underwrites the policy will not file bankruptcy in the meanwhile, and that phones and computer systems will still be working at that time and the company will have a record of this purchase, since I will be–ahem–unable to request these services myself. It also presumes that nothing major in the way the world works will change (something it is never safe to assume), and that I will not be pulverized or vaporized by some cataclysmic event…but then, if that happens, no one will have to worry about how to dispose of the body anyway. I’m actually much more worried about the bats and the honeybees.

A dear friend called my attention to an article in the New York Times: “In what is one of the worst calamities to hit bat populations in the United States, on average 90 percent of the hibernating bats in four caves and mines in New York have died since last winter…. Researchers have yet to determine whether the bats are being killed by a virus, bacteria, toxin, environmental hazard, metabolic disorder or fungus.”

And as we have known for about a year, the honeybees are disappearing. Polar bears are drowning. Ice shelves are melting. There used to be over 4000 varieties of wheat, and now there are fewer than 800, and someone is freezing seeds to preserve them in a vault near the North Pole. So in that context, it may be arrogant to think I will die peacefully in a place where someone can look in my wallet to find the card that tells them the phone number to call to get my pre-arranged cremation services. But I’ve done what I can do to make it easy for my kids.

I have never been especially fond of bats. I have friends who build bat-houses and croon lovingly about this or that variety of bat, but I have never quite caught the passion. Bats used occasionally to fly into my house in Massachusetts via the chimney in the summer, and then I would get mildly hysterical trying to catch them without harming them in order to get them out of the house. But I’m stricken to hear that they’re dying by the hundreds or thousands.  I’m much fonder of bees than bats, but certainly each has its place in the scheme of things, which is rather more than I can say for myself or most of the other hapless human beings I know, as we all seem to consume and befoul more than we preserve, and I would be willing to bet that it is human stupidity at the root of the disappearing bats and bees, just as we are the ones responsible for the melting glaciers and most of the rest of what’s wrong in the world.

So what can we do?

Live as greenly as possible. Clean up after ourselves and recycle. Quit, as Stephen says, using petroleum products. Quit driving cars everywhere. But more than that–I think the moral imperative is to LOVE IT ALL MORE. Love it ferociously, as if our lives depend on it. Because they do. I want to love every little bat and bee and drop of non-acidic rain. I don’t want to miss the falling petals of the cherry blossoms, the purring of the cat, the wind in the branches and the clouds scudding through the sky. I want to indulge all my senses in the business of loving it all. Because it (and I) will all too soon be gone. This is the heart of the Buddhist teaching on IMPERMANENCE: this is why some monks go meditate at the charnel grounds, why some have skulls in their monasteries or carry beads made from human femurs. Not to be Gothic, but to remind themselves to love it, love it fiercely, love it with all the attention possible. There’s not enough time to love it all as much as I want to. Because it–and we–are all fragile, transitory, and ephemeral.

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One response to “Pay now, die later”

  1. I wasn’t aware that Buddhist monks meditate at charnel grounds, have skulls in their monasteries or carry beads made from human femurs. Their medieval European counterparts went in for that sort of thing, but as I suppose they’re about as equally stupid, other-worldly or just mentally unbalanced the details of their activities or private amusements hardly matter. Meditating on ‘impermanence’ is all very well, though it’s hardly very original or interesting; what I’d take umbrage over is the idea that any of this has anything to do with ‘love’, which can only be genuinely directed towards ‘art’ or – as second best and then usually mistakenly – towards occasional individuals. Wishy-washy benevolence towards the world in general won’t do, it usually means either a failure to discriminate or some more damning disorder and moreover it doesn’t stand the test of challenge – monks are notoriously ill tempered and disagreeable if thwarted or questioned in their own narrow pursuits, as I thought you learned last year. Nor I believe could they care less about the natural world, even if their mode of life does nothing to damage it. You’re mixing up unrelated subjects here ….

    Of course the world is an infinitely beautiful souce of innocent sensual pleasure for those who bother to notice, and also of course the human race, the least satisfactory of the Creator’s inventions, has always and increasingly been prodigiously careless of it and so has outpaced its proper proportion. It’s simply time for another culling of the species that walks on two legs, as well in consequence and incidentally, most of the birds, bees, bats, bears and the rest of them, and your grim predictions are almost certainly accurate, although on the next occasion the operation is likely to be rather more drastic than it ever has been before since Noah’s Ark. Not a matter for tears if your funeral arrangements have been settled. Not a matter for bleating either. Those gentle and useless monks will be the first to be mown down. There are solutions, one of which I’ve suggested, though with not even a whiff of optimism – survivors, if there are any, will have to learn the hard way …

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