Is There a Perfect Age to Die?

Is it better to die young or old? Isn’t it true that when we hear of a young person or a child who dies we feel it to be terribly tragic? On my travels this past summer I visited my dead relatives in a forgotten cemetery surrounded by state forest where the trees are planted in far more uniform lines than the grave stones.

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An uncle of mine was the cemetery sexton over a century ago who’s job it was to dig the holes when the ground was thawed for burial of the little community’s dead. In his neat 19th century script he kept records of the friends and family he helped to bury for a fee, making sure to note who had paid and who had not.

My grandfather (4x) was all paid up in 1860. In that same year his four-year-old son had died and his married daughter too.  On my summer trip I met distant cousins who made a picnic for us by the pond so when we went to the cemetery I wasn’t really able to soak it in as much as I would have liked (though meeting my  cousins and feeling instantly attached to them made up for the little disappointment).

XVXW1091I made sure to take a solitary trip in the fall to commune with my dead. People talk of soul mates but do they talk of soul places? The place my soul is drawn to is a bleak and beautiful county in Upstate New York. If I could live beside the cemetery I would be quite pleased.

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On this second trip, with the wind causing the pines to whisper all around, not a soul stirred for a mile. So much of the county is deserted now and all of my family farm land is owned by the grabby hands of the state. All of the woods chopped by my New England ancestors are back to “forest” though there is hardly a wild feel to these managed rows.

Back to the dead.

I entered the cemetery through the opening in the rock wall that surrounds the place. Once an iron banner stood over the entranceway, but someone had carried it away for their antiques collection or had destroyed it for fun. Nobody knows.  The stones stood white for over a century until acid rain  became a thing and turned the limestone black.

IMG_0098And still I avoid talking of the dead — though I have no fear of death because of the very people I came to visit. As the wind picked up and the loneliness of the place heightened my awareness of the longing I always have to time travel I found my grandfather’s stone. My grandmother’s had broken in two and lay beside her husband’s.

No one believed way back then that this grandfather would keep the faith after his conversion but he did and made sure that his stone would declare this faith with the Holy Bible carved at the very top. He had one made for his wife and even his adult daughter. Of course in a God-fearing community of Baptists the style of stone could have been the basic model, but not everyone in the cemetery have such stones.

My aunt (4x) and even the sexton who was her husband are buried close by, but little Jesse, my Grandfather’s son who died at the age of four, lies close beside his grandfather’s stone. Jesse’s stone is ornate in comparison to many of the others and has a long and hard-to-read epitaph. I knelt before it in the moist grass and scratched the moss from the stone to get a better look. Much of the epitaph has been worn away but there are words about eternity, sorrow and love.

What is the most tragic age to die?

Is it even a tragedy? As a mother of adult children I still pray that I die before my children do, yet I totally believe in the eternity of souls. I was thinking the other day that a long life carries with it far more suffering than a short one. I was reminded of this idea  when reading The Brother’s Karamazov:

“Add to that that he was to some extent a youth of our last epoch — that is, honest in nature, desiring the truth, seeking for it and believing in it, and seeking to serve it at once with all the strength of his soul, seeking for immediate action, and ready to sacrifice everything , life itself, for it. Though these young men unhappily fail to understand that the sacrifice of life is, in many cases, the easiest of all sacrifices …”

This is not to say a child is seeking after all of this. The cuteness of children, the holy innocence of them is maybe why we hate their loss the most and miss them more terribly (if that is true and I’m not certain) amidst this worldly corruption. When young men and women (but still mostly men) sacrifice themselves for causes and wars the thing is terrible, but glorified. But to live on and die an average age, to experience the death of others, to be diagnosed with disease, to fail at work, to be stuck in deep depression or chronic pain … most of these things are reserved for the middle-aged and the elderly.

In the Catholic Church it is not a sin to talk to redeemed souls, to ask after them, and to beg them to pray before God’s throne for us. We can also pray for them. This absolutely thrills me. I’m in no hurry to die, but I long for the day when I will meet generations of family.

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By the road side where my soul lives …

I feel strengthened especially by those who lived long and hard lives, who learned things from deep suffering and carried on with mystic purpose. In ways that I can’t explain, I feel especially close to some of my dead. I know and have experienced signs that we loved each other deeply in another place. Some people would say it’s a coping mechanism or the product of an active imagination, but the older I get the more I feel it’s true and the less I worry about the end.

Have you ever been in touch with dead souls? Let me know in the comments!

 

Sunday at Middlemay Farm

IMG_4252A few weeks ago I visited with a lady who rescued a cream-colored dairy goat from a farmer who had bred the goat multiple times. No problem there, but when the goat waddled out of her cozy, straw-filled stall into the main section of the sweet-smelling barn I saw right away why this woman had felt the creature needed to live with her.

The goat had deformed front hooves that caused her to walk on her knees. She also had a huge under-bite which made her look funny. My first thought was that most people would have put this animal down at birth. Instead the farmers bred her multiple times (maybe a financial necessity) before agreeing to give the goat away.

At this point when the lady was telling me the story  the goat had come up beside me, giving me soulful look. It leaned in like a Golden Retriever would waiting to be petted. The lady told me that many adults and children have found peace and some healing from emotional wounds just by sitting with this little beam of sunshine. Who is to say that her life doesn’t matter?

For you have formed my inward parts: you have covered me in my mother’s womb.

I will praise you; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvelous are your works; and that my soul knows right well.

My frame was not hid from you, when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.

Your eyes did see my substance, being yet unformed; and in your book they were all written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them.

How precious also are your thoughts unto me, O God! how great is the sum of them!

Psalm 139:13-17

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Pray for New York

 

 

Sunday at Middlemay Farm

Enlarge Within Us a Sense of Fellowship
By St. Basil (300? – 375 A.D.)

The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.

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Oh, God, enlarge within us the sense of fellowship with all living things; with our brothers the animals to whom Thou gavest the earth as their home in common with us.

We remember with shame that in the past we have exercised the high dominion of man with ruthless cruelty so that the voice of the earth, which should have gone up to Thee in song, has been a groan of travail.

May we realize that they live not for us alone, but for themselves, and for Thee, and that they love the sweetness of life even as we, and serve Thee in their place better than we in others.

The Tenafly Road Series

“Characters so deep you follow them into the abyss, hoping to come out unscathed, but never returning the same. They will haunt me forever.”

 

Ring Out Wild Bells by Alfred Tennyson

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Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow;
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light:
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more;
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

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Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife,
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweet manners, purer laws.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease;
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

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***“Ring Out, Wild Bells” is a poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Published in 1850, the year he was appointed Poet Laureate, it forms part of In Memoriam, Tennyson’s elegy to Arthur Henry Hallam, his sister’s fiancé who died at the age of twenty-two. Wikipedia

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The Tenafly Road Series

“Characters so deep you follow them into the abyss, hoping to come out unscathed, but never returning the same. They will haunt me forever.”

The Return of the Heroes (In Honor of Veterans)

When late I sang sad was my voice,

Sad were the shows around me with deafening noises of hatred
and smoke of war;

In the midst of the conflict, the heroes, I stood,

Or pass’d with slow step through the wounded and dying.

 

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But now I sing not war,

Nor the measur’d march of soldiers, nor the tents of camps,

Nor the regiments hastily coming up deploying in line of battle;

No more the sad, unnatural shows of war.

 

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Ask’d room those flush’d immortal ranks, the first forth-stepping
armies?

Ask room alas the ghastly ranks, the armies dread that follow’d.

(Pass, pass, ye proud brigades, with your tramping sinewy legs,

With your shoulders young and strong, with your knapsacks and
your muskets;

How elate I stood and watch’d you, where starting off you
march’d.

Pass—then rattle drums again,

For an army heaves in sight, O another gathering army,

Swarming, trailing on the rear, O you dread accruing army,

O you regiments so piteous, with your mortal diarrhoea, with your
fever,

O my land’s maim’d darlings, with the plenteous bloody bandage
and the crutch,

Lo, your pallid army follows.)

Walt Whitman

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Sunday at Middlemay Farm

“Ask the animals, and they will teach you,

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or the birds of the air, and they will tell you;

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or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish of the sea inform you.

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Which of these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.” (Job 12:7-10)

 

HAVE A PEACEFUL WEEK!

#WritersLife at Middlemay Farm

The last of my novels are awaiting their final editing (more about how great KEVIN BRENNAN of INDIE-SCRIBABLE EDITORIAL SERVICES has been in a future post).

Spring has arrived and just in time. As my dogs can tell you, we were getting a little too used to slacking in bed.

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Yes, this is our new basement hideout/bedroom/writing space. The dogs never want to leave but I have to occasionally go outside to see if one of these has arrived:

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I named our only black lamb Prince Andrei after he came down with a sickness that could have taken his life. He survived but is having a little trouble fitting in …

I’m having the same trouble finding time to write, but I said I was taking a small break to get used to my new surroundings which aren’t half bad:

Today I’d love to know how your spring is going. Do you have a special place to dream or nap? Any new arrivals causing you to reshuffle your space?

If you’ve done a post about your space leave me a link. I love seeing how other people live.

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Rosie is so not interested in my books! Brat!