Friday, December 17, 2010

Death and Christmas

I have trouble sleeping. Don't think I've closed my eyes before three AM this past week. Last night I was up until five reading Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. Time-travel historical romance, and really not my thing, but it was free in the Nook store. The writing's okay, escapism. I just need something to do besides lay there with my eyes closed and think about death.

See, I'm afraid of death.

I'm a second generation atheist. I don't have the security of an afterlife to soothe me. I don't have the anger and defiance of first generation atheists to brace me. I have to find the courage to face the void somewhere else. I want to ask my Dad, how do you feel about dying?

He's a first generation atheist. He has his withering contempt for the Catholic Church to hold on to. I want to ask him, now that you're dying, do the myths of your childhood give you any comfort?

Those aren't the kinds of questions you can ask a dying man.

As far back as I recall, my dad has always despised Christmas. My mom loves Christmas; it's her favorite holiday. I think sometimes that maybe he didn't hate it so much until they split up, maybe it's that she loves it so much and it hurts him to remember. I want to ask him, does this Christmas, your last Christmas, matter very much to you?

Mexicans have Día de los Muertos. Swedes have Alla helgons afton. Holidays to remember the dead. I'm American, we don't have a holiday to remember our dead. Maybe we did once, but it's been retailed out of recognition.

Christmas seems as good a time as any. For thousands of years before Blue Eyed Jesus, the apex of winter was a time for pitiful enclaves of humanity to cluster together against the cold and the dark and pray to their fickle gods that they would survive passage through the desert of the coming months and emerge, still alive, in the spring. They wouldn't, not all of them. They knew that too.

Time sucks me forward, inexorable and uncaring. It's going so fast that sometimes I can't breathe. I've dug in my heels, but there's no traction in the snow. We won't all still be here in the spring.