Friday, March 17, 2006

On death

My friend Tom wrote:

“The Georgetown University Hospital comprises several medical towers interconnected. The CCC Building is where the Pediatric Inpatient floor is.
On the fourth floor on a wall by the elevators there is a beautiful, large quilt encased in glass. Next to it there is a large picture of a young woman. Her expression is of a friendly, intelligent, serene, very nice looking woman. Below the picture it says:
Sandra D. Teague, Physical and Occupational Therapist.
19 June 1970- September 11, 2001

Sandra had been working at GUH for three years after graduating from her University degree. She had decided to take a vacation to Hawaii and was on the American Airlines Flight 77 to fly to Los Angeles and from there on to the islands. Flight 77 was highjacked and crushed into the Pentagon, just a couple of miles, across the river from Georgetown, in Arlington, Virginia.
The quilt was especially made in memory of Sandra "With sorrow and a deep sense of loss..." It has woven in its center a red square representing warmth and love. Surrounding this there are different colors signifying the passages of happiness and also setbacks in life.
Believe me, I have stopped many times to look at this beautiful quilt and read the words written about Sandra. She was one of the many innocent victims of the criminal attacks of September 11, as well as those of Madrid and London.
You can say that I am not a good Christian because one should forgive but never forget. I know I will never forgive.”

One piece of the evolution of man is the evidence of (certain) care for the dead. Of the many findings of the paleoarcheological site of Atapuerca the Pit of the Bones (“La sima de los huesos”) claims a major interest: it is bthe first evidence of some activity or behaviour related to dead humans. This means some consideration of transcendence beyond death: that there is something besides the body. You may call it soul or just remembrance.
The fossils found in the Pit of the Bones are dated some 300.000 years b.p.t (before present time). That is how old are memorial practices.
The quilt you mentioned is what is called a cenotaph: a memorial for a dead person elsewhere the actual tomb. Death, being tragic or just early, elicits deep feelings, old ones. And beautiful words.

The Bard said, with the voice of Mark Antony at Julius Caesar death:

“O mighty Caesar! dost thou lie so low?
Are all thy conquests, glories, triumphs, spoils,
Shrunk to this little measure? Fare thee well.
I know not, gentlemen, what you intend,
Who else must be let blood, who else is rank:
If I myself, there is no hour so fit
As Caesar's death hour, nor no instrument
Of half that worth as those your swords, made rich
With the most noble blood of all this world.
I do beseech ye, if you bear me hard,
Now, whilst your purpled hands do reek and smoke,
Fulfil your pleasure. Live a thousand years,
I shall not find myself so apt to die:
No place will please me so, no mean of death,
As here by Caesar, and by you cut off,
The choice and master spirits of this age.”

(Julius Caesar, Act three, Scene I)

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