I closed the book (Looking for Alaska by John Green) a couple nights ago, but couldn't stop my mind from thinking about what I'd read. The narrator, a high school boy inaptly named Pudge, muses toward the end, "I thought the way out of the labyrinth was to pretend that it doesn't exist . . . to pretend that I was not lost, but home." He arrives at the conclusion that the only way out of the labyrinth is death; and that "the afterlife" . . . is something we make up . . . to make our time in the labyrinth bearable."
It's been several days now, and I find myself returning to the last pages of the book, puzzling over why these words (and more, which I'll get to later) won't leave me alone. I can see the use of a labyrinth as a metaphor for a troubled life. All that bumping up against immoveable walls, getting caught in seemingly endless round abouts, or dead ends, or simply being lost.
In the novel, Pudge grapples with the concept of "being" as in a person being more than just matter, more than the sum of the parts (blood, bones, tissue, etc) and at first I thought, well, yeah, of course we are, because we are living, breathing, human beings, energized by life. As energy is only changed, never created and never destroyed, my thoughts turned to: When a person dies, where does the energy that was within . . . go?
I know the basics of the life cycle, that old ashes to ashes, dust to dust business. Still, after reading this novel I began thinking deeply about energy transfer itself. (This possibly due to the fact that I am currently gearing up for teaching about energy transfer to my fifth graders.) Bear with me while I tiptoe creepily through my thought processes regarding labyrinth living and death.
My son Chris was a vibrant, charismatic young man, who attracted friends like ants to a picnic. He exuded energy from infancy, into adulthood, was always "up" for any new or exciting adventure. We used to tease that he fell in love with Shari because he had so much fun playing with her three kids. He was a fun guy to be around, up until a catastrophic event swept him into a spiraling labyrinth of depression he was unable to pull himself out of. In desperation, and under the influence of alcohol, he took his own life a few days after his 30th birthday. Bill, one of his best friends from high school, was the cop who arrived first at his home when Shari called 911. Chris was still breathing, hooked to life support, and rushed to the hospital.
Chris had two well known requests. He chose to be an organ donor when he got his first licence to drive, and he didn't want to be buried when he died. When it was determined that Chris was brain dead, recipients were found for his viable organs. I choose to believe that his "energy" was transfered via his heart, kidneys, eyes and tissues.
After being "harvested" (kind of an icky term, but appropriate) his body was cremated. His wife, Shari, and I split his ashes. Over the course of the past six years, we've scattered Chris all over the Pacific Northwest that he loved: along the Columbia, Lewis and Washougal Rivers; at campgrounds; the beach and on hiking trails. I typically keep a film canister of Chris' ashes in the car with me, just in case I am someplace I think he would like to be. I have never felt creepy about this practice, or morbid. The bulk of Chris sits in a Christmas box on my sewing table, not exactly a logical place, but not exactly illogical either. He loved Christmas and he loved his mom.
Ashes are matter, but, do they have energy? I find it challenging to wrap my mind around that. I know that energy can't be destroyed, only changed. I guess there is potential energy dormant in his ashes, or for that matter, any ashes. I tried to find information on the web about any "benefits" of ashes but found little regarding human ashes. Probably a good thing.
Finding our way through the labyrinth of life can be a daunting task. If we think too long about it, it can be scary not knowing what is around the next corner. I chose to believe that I'm not lost, and to trust that I am where I'm meant to be . . . "home".
labyrinth photo found at: