Going out with a bang

by Brian Keaney

I recently accepted a position of some responsibility with an organization that that does much good work in the world and one where I am proud to be a member (so I’m not willing to ridicule them by name).  That said, as I’ve moved up the organizational ladder, I’ve been somewhat amused and somewhat frustrated with how seriously the people at the upper levels take themselves.  At a recent meeting there was a lengthy discussion on how people in my distinguished position should always ensure that we are seated in a position of honor at all events, or in the front of the line of processions –  ahead of these types and only behind those few others.

Bobby Kennedy's gravesite

Please.  I am well aware of my own insignificance in the universe.  If someone reserves a seat for me I’ll take it, but I’m not going to lower myself to clamoring for it, even if it means debasing my lofty title by sitting in the back.

My own insignificance is one reason I’ve always said I don’t want an elaborate service or expensive measures taken when I die.  The idea of spending thousands of dollars on embalming and gold lined coffins is absurd.  Put me in a square pine box and throw some dirt on me… after my organs are harvested and med students have a chance to hack away at my corpse for practice.

On my grave, I want nothing more than what Bobby Kennedy asked for: a plain white cross.  I figure that by the time it rots away I’ll have been forgotten anyway, so why bother with an expensive and permanent tombstone?  Actually, I wouldn’t even mind being buried at sea.  I love the ocean, and I’ve always liked the prayer where you commit the soul to God and the body to the sea.

My least preferred way, up until the other night, was cremation.  It’s just never appealed to me, though having my ashes scattered over the Atlantic does sound better than being buried in a hole.   What changed was listening to one of my favorite podcasts, a Stuff You Should Know episode on cremation.  After going through an explanation of how cremation works and a warning to stay away from less than reputable purveyors of the craft – and a reference to The Big Lebowski (And so, Theodore Donald Karabotsos, in accordance with what we think your dying wishes might well have been, we commit your final mortal remains to the bosom of the Pacific Ocean, which you loved so well.) – Josh and Chuck mention that Hunter Thompson had his ashes mixed in with fireworks and then launched over his ranch.

At the already increased risk of sounding like a young person who has thought entirely too much about death, I’ll mention here that I’ve often said I don’t want to die an old man in my bed.  I’d much rather go out in a blaze of glory when a bolt on the world’s fastest roller coast snaps, or by falling off a 500 foot cliff after surmounting Everest.

This fireworks idea has got me thinking, though.  Now, even if I do end up old and decrepit in my final days, I can still go out with a bang, literally, if not figuratively.  More than that, I’m well aware that wakes and funerals are for the sake of the living, not the dead.  If my funeral can bring a smile to someone’s face, that’s well worth the cost of the life insurance needed to pay for it.

The photo above by Lode Vermeiren is used under this Creative Commons license.

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