Recently, driving to the Post Office, I passed a small crowd standing around a dead body, stretched long, feet pressed into the gutter, head (face-down) angled into the street. I knew the man was dead because no one was in any particular hurry. The solitary policeman was standing, hands at his side, looking up the street, waiting for the coroner's truck, which I could see turning the corner close behind the ambulance traveling slowly without any flashing lights. It was a somber scene.
I don't know why the young man died (he did seem young); I didn't see any blood. His arms and legs were solid and straight; he did not appear to have fallen while running. Nothing looked broken, no limbs at odd angles. The body on the street looked as if it had been at one moment standing -- maybe listening to the train on the tracks above -- and the next moment fallen, as a tree falls, silently and slowly without twisting or turning or collapsing. Maybe it was a heart attack, a stroke, a drug overdose, or one of the three disguised as the other -- a gathering of energies too large to be contained by anyone.
But then again, maybe it was an accident . . . a scattering of life ashes without warning, before any whistles blew, any bells tolled.
A mistake made by the Universe.
No news reports mentioned the body in the street. No makeshift memorials appeared.
A life ended. That's all.
Or is it? What happens when a life ends? What remains?
Energy? Memories? Dreams? Hopes? Fears?
All of the above or nothing at all?
Ordinarily when someone dies, we try -- as best we can -- to beautify the environment surrounding the death. We bring armloads of flowers, play flutes, sing songs. Offer the best foods, the best memories, the kindest smiles.
I didn't know the man (or boy) who once occupied the body lying so sadly in the gutter, but I extend soberly my own offering of the beauty of the world he left behind.
Here, a piece of the sea, rounded by the tides; there, a snapshot of smiles painted on a building only blocks from where he fell. And then, quietly, too, the exuberance of a January rose, the Peace rose, madly blooming despite low light and chilly temperatures.
And creeping from shadow, a photo of a portrait of a photographer beautifully painted on boards near the gentle smiles above. Murals of life and hope.
Finally, at the last, the sidewalk itself, a different sidewalk, of course, one delicately imprinted with a purpled mosaic of fallen leaves, a rich patterning that will too soon be washed away by winter rains just as winter will wash out to spring, spring explode to summer, summer dry to the golden days before winter comes again. Nothing lasts forever, but all that is left behind -- the ashes, the scattered leaves, the bits and pieces, stones and bones -- calls up the past.
It really doesn't matter if what we recall of the past is happy or sad.
It is always good to remember . . . after all, a funny thing happens when we recall the past.
We are propelled into the future.