In recent discussions with my good friend, we discussed human and animal death and Val Plumwood’s view of human / nature dualism. She made a profound comment on human death – we are opting out of the system through cremation. I agree with her wholeheartedly and it got me wondering about the statistics. As I thought, they are disappointingly high. The East leads the way in cremation.
Ironically, cremation in the West really began as an environmental initiative – to save land for parks, farms and housing. But what my friend and I both sense is that it is much more about what no one says – the horror of being eaten. Humans separation of themselves from the natural world – over there somewhere, shimmering perfectly in our imagination or out there toothed and fanged and kept at a safe distance from us is having consequences. Plumwood’s notion is very much at work here. We would rather have our bodies incinerated into bone rubble (it isn’t dust that remains but rather bone rubble which looks very similar to shell and coral rubble with many subtle colours throughout) than return to where we came from – the earth through the maggot and the microbe.
We are cheating the system in the worst way. The one and only offering we have is to give our bodies back and we are opting out.
Even our lives on earth are cheating the system more than ever. Plastic grass, or artificial lawn as its nicer name implies, is becoming a growing trend as well. One of the ads states, ‘even cows can’t tell the difference’. I’m pretty sure they can. Mr Mervyn Victor Richardson would be disheartened to think that his iconic Victa lawnmower created in 1952 and so highly celebrated at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, might be a tiny footnote of Australian life if this trend really takes hold.
This human / nature dualism is humming away in our subconscious and our decisions as always, have consequences. There is a growing tend toward green burials. Benjamin Law’s piece in the Monthly ‘Dead, Wrapped in Cardboard’ (2009) gives some insight into this movement away from embalming and cremation. It encompasses what another friend’s mother said. ‘I want to be wrapped in a shroud and buried under a tree.’ She died recently and was cremated but it made me wonder if this type of burial is possible and it seems that thankfully, it is.
Himalayan sky burials are in peril due to dwindling numbers of endangered vultures and bodies are rotting in towers instead of returning to the system both literally and spiritually as food. We are part of nature whether we like it or not. Animals are food for us and we should be food for animals. It is our only way to give back.
As I write this, a big blowfly has flown in and it reminds me of one of my favourite poems from years back:
Ode To The Maggot
By Yusef Komunyakaa
Brother of the blowfly
And godhead, you work magic
In slabs of bad pork
And flophouses. Yes, you
Go to the root of all things.
You are sound & mathematical.
Jesus, Christ, you’re merciless
With the truth. Ontological & lustrous,
You cast spells on beggars & kings
Behind the stone door of Caesar’s tomb
Or split trench in a field of ragweed.
No decree or creed can outlaw you
As you take every living thing apart. Little
Master of earth, no one gets to heaven
Without going through you first.