Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Burial of the Dead

Everyone’s favorite April poem is T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land. It is more about death, however, than springtime hope. Like the beautiful crab apple tree above, the poem memorializes many confusing feelings. Under the tree, which is across the street from my house, my beloved Abyssinian cat is buried. Along with him is buried a friendship that I had hoped would flourish.

Osiris, as he was called, would wake me every morning so that I could let him outside. He spent his days hunting on the grounds of the historic home outside my door. In the evening he would return with some “present.” Often he slept curled up at my side. He was not a cat that would sit on your lap and purr; he was independent and selective with his attentions. Sometimes he purred for me.

When Osiris died one April from a horrible wasting disease, my friends did what they could to console me. They indulged me and conceded to my grief. All except one. And of course it was the one I wanted to hear from most, and the one whose opinion always meant the most to me.

But, as I have warned my daughter, beware the man who does not acknowledge the loss of your cat. He will never care for you, let alone respect you. You will not be remembered. And time proved me right. Never did I receive a birthday note or a nengajo card. He never initiated a conversation and was quick to point out my many mistakes.

Yes, I should have been more guarded, but I work every day alone on issues of apology and torture and rape and genocide. What I do is neither popular nor recognized. I do this because I believe that it is important for man to aspire to his better nature. And it was an irrational exuberance for me to be so charmed to find that rare someone who shared my values and interests.

But “the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief, And the dry stone no sound of water.” As it turned out, he said, “sharing values does not make us friends” and knowing me was a professional liability, thus he concluded that “we should stop” being friends. And we did.

I rarely get beyond the first section of The Waste Land. I don’t really understand the details; there is just too much to look up. Does Eliot mention the Starnbergersee because Mad King Ludwig died there or is it just another symbol of Germany and WWI? Who the HECK is Marie? Do hyacinths really symbolize resurrection? Maybe they just cover up the stench from the rot. Stanza after stanza is of death and disillusionment.

Memorials don’t always do the job that they are intended. They mean to symbolize hope and the endurance of the human spirit (and I will write more about this later). Every April the tree outside my home blooms a beautiful pink, memorizing the pain from my two losses. Like Eliot, I feel no hope only defeat and miss even more what is gone.

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