Monday, May 25, 2009

A fate, death

A number of years ago, I was walking through an old Quaker cemetery in Narberth, Pennsylvania, outside of Philadelphia. There were a number of old, very old, tombstones, dating back to the birth of the United States. A pair of tombstones stood out to me.

They were the markers of two young boys, same last name, possibly brothers. As memory serves, they died young, around the age of 20 or 21. They were buried during World War I, so presumably they lost their lives in Europe. As I walked around the yard, rock memorials worn by the weather of many decades, I thought about them, how their lives were cut short. I contemplated on how they never really had a chance to live. I wondered if their flesh was torn apart by bullets, or if their limbs were shorn from their bodies. Did they die instantly, or did they stare up at the sky, tears rolling down their faces, crying for a mother they would never see again? Or did they slowly rot away, gangrene and infection and disease working on what was left of them until they rotted away in a hospital?

I thought about their parents, how they had to mourn not one but two sons. I thought about their lovers, if they were married, if they had children. Did they leave behind widows and orphans, or did they not even have the luxury of love before their brief, worthless lives were snuffed out? If they had children, did those children go on to die in Europe during the next world war, a sad farce playing out all over again?

The names on the graves were eroded by the elements. In a number of years, their names will disappear, and any note that they were once on this earth would be gone. If they had any children, they are probably dead, too, if not by one of America's choice of wars, then from old age, or poor health, or suicide, or violent crime. No one left to remember them, or whisper their names.

Immortality is a dream. The best anyone every achieves is having a marble statute in a museum or a cartoon likeness whoring out some corporate product (if you're Ben Franklin or Abe Lincoln, you get both). When we finally conclude the bizarre dance of our existence, it is almost always not by choice. If we're lucky, we had a few good tunes with a few good beats, and maybe a few good partners along the way. Even if we don't, at least we got the chance to dream.

That's the beauty of war. It doesn't just take away lives, it takes away dreams. It cuts people down before they ever get to live. It is more ancient than agriculture, and it will outlast computers. It is our beginning, and it is our end.

Of course, if we don't kill people, how else will we solve our problems? Plus, guns are pretty bad ass.