Wednesday, February 21, 2018

On a missionary's death

The Reverend Billy Graham has died.
My sister was killed by a Christian missionary who told me it was God's will.

Not saying they're connected--not saying they're not.

Gardens die in the fall—without the energy to keep itself together, a plant falls apart. As the summer sun slides off its altar, reminding us who reigns, the world around us dies.


From a tired garden in October.
Life will return when the sun does, in its glorious ooziness of critters and plants and archaea and bacteria and fungi and whatever else has crawled from our common puddle of life eons ago.

I enjoy being part of this oozy thisness, but we only get to play in its rhythms for a short while, metaphorically for most, literally for some.

If my sister can die, so can you. So can I. And we will, in due time. 
I spent part of the afternoon ripping up autumn earth, rich with life, getting ready for the time when the sun will return. Then I took a walk along the edge of the bay, whipped up into a brown frenzy by the blow we’ve had the past couple of days, looking for fossils, reminders of lives long past but still with a remnant of order, a "fuck off" to the entropy that will eventually turn even the stoniest fossils back to dust.

I found two, a broken shark tooth and another I could not identify, and I’ll carry them around a few days until I lose them or give them away. (My students love fossils as much as I love the idea of fossils, so I’ll keep collecting them because it gives me pleasure.)

As I walked up the short but steep sandy path back to my bicycle, passing a ghost crab burrow along the way, I realized, again, just how lucky I am, doing pretty much what I want to do just about every single day, for no particular reason beyond the joy it brings me.

Two Mile Beach, photo by Leslie Doyle

I break clods of rich sod with my hands, drink hoppy ales, ride on an aging recumbent bicycle the kids think is cool, bang on various stringed instruments, rake up clams from the flats, walk along the edge of the sea, stare at the stars and a galaxy or two at night, share what we know about the natural world about half my days, and get to walk barefoot until it snows, and even then sometimes. I live with my best friend, and my kids are decent adults leading good lives.

Oh, and I get to write long, unedited nonsense, which I have not done for a little while, about a pointless life, but that, you see, is exactly the point.

Live every day as if it could be your last, and give the same courtesy to your students, at least while you can. I’m not a bad science teacher, nor am I a great one, but I pointedly live a happy, pointless life.

Mary Beth's life was not pointless....


joycelee36 said...

I'm relatively positive that Mary Beth would take qualms with your last two statements-- the one about yourself and the one about her.

But I also suspect that that's the ultimate value judgement-- we will always inaccurately assess the impact we have on the universe in all ways. It's up to those we love to remind us of our value, the arc of time/history to see if we even mattered, and those we impact/ed to remember us.

Thanks for being a light in this corner of the internet and of the world. I believe your life has a beautiful narrative purpose, and we can debate the merits of our follies over coffee (or tea. I prefer tea.).

doyle said...

Dear Joycelee,

Maybe she would, no way to ask her now, but maybe the point about pointlessness missed the point.

Mary Beth was fearless, partly because she knew that the status quo would doom us all. If we're already doomed, why not do what's right. She also believed anybody and everybody was capable of change. I know these things because she told me so.

As to the rest, though, all I hear is her deep, wise, guttural laughter, the laugh of Hotei.

I'm assuming you knew her. At least I hope so--she was worth knowing. And I miss her terribly.