We talk a lot about war on this blog but we only talk about the deaths as numbers killed. We don’t talk about the intimate details of how a mother, a father, a spouse and children, and other relatives and loved ones can handle that horror. The government and the media like to play up those families who can say “We feel our son or daughter died proudly for ‘freedom.’” In front of the camera they say what is expected of them but they mourn alone in their quiet hours.
Is death a controversial enough subject that merits discussion on this contrarian blog? Here’s a test that can help to answer that question. In any setting in our country, be it a rough bar or a group of people sitting at a fancy soiree, try asking How do you feel about death? A stunned silence will greet you either at the bar or the soiree. Further than that, you will be disinvited for the next drink or chit chat.
That’s why George H.W. Bush (and later his son) got away with mandating that no photographs could be taken of the flag-draped coffins coming off the planes of those killed in America’s wars of choice. In fact it is like nobody dies in our wars – don’t Americans live forever? Hardly a cry of protest went up from our citizens when our government decreed that death had nothing to do with war. Death is a number not a wasted human life. It’s all about freedom and an eternal afterlife in heaven.
It was not always this way. During my war (World War II) one could walk down any residential street in our country and see many blue star flags hanging in the front window that said that they had someone in the military. My mother had one for me. Possibly in the next block you would see a gold star flag that said someone in their family had been killed. On many street corners above or below the street sign there would be a brass plaque upon which the name of the dead was inscribed. Death was recognized as a topic and a tragedy and that is why we wanted the war to end.
Let’s talk about death, not just about war dead but how all of our lives will end. At the age of 90 I think about this every day. In fact I have thought about death every day since I was 18 and faced going into my war. The dominant Western view of death is based on a moral code that directs one either to “heaven” or “hell.” It is based on your believing that there is both a God that makes this awesome decision about you and that you will be able to revel in heaven or roast in hell. Good luck on that one.
The other day I came across a small and obscure book, THE GREAT CHANGE written by “White Deer of Autumn.” In fourteen beautifully illustrated pages, White Deer shows that our native people have more sense of the reality of death than all of our Western religions.
To White Deer dying means returning to the earth and letting the good you have done during your life join the goodness of your dead loved ones. No heaven and no hell. What a close shave!
And in this small book of Native American wisdom this is how Grandma sees death.
Gazing up at the black sky, she saw Grandpa in the silver stars. Within her old body she sensed her own “special part” stirring restlessly and knew it would be soon that her goodness would join his in the Great Mystery …And she knew that the Circle of Life would remain for another generation–unbroken and strong.