On: Trust and Dying

On: Trust and Dying

“Trust is such a short word and yet it takes such a long time to earn.”

Dear readers, consider that pearl. You might think that it came from a fortune cookie, which is the usual source of the pithy wisdoms I encounter, but no. And while it also might resemble the latest sound bite from Rick Santorum, whose bid to scour the Republican party of its liberal leanings is now officially underway, instead this zinger comes from the opening line of a mailer I recently received from the National Cremation Society, whose envelope teased me to tear it apart with the promise of “Winning a Free Cremation Plan.”

Yes, that’s right—open this envelope because you might have won a free cremation!

Giddily I contemplated my options. Nervously I held the tiny envelope in my anxiety-riddled hands. Were my years of prayers finally to be answered?!

My initial thought was to forward it to my Grandma, as the prize-sweepstakes format is right in her wheelhouse. Also, and without being mean-spiritied, I’m banking on the notion that the services offered by the NCS are more timely for her than they are for me.

But, like a sucker, I opened it, only to find out that I did not in fact win a free cremation. Which soured me, I’ll admit. Bunch of cock-teases, these NCS people, going around promising free cremations only to pull it back at the last minute. But they included a nice little pamphlet about the upsides of cremation, which included such pertinent points as:

“Traditional funerals can be very expensive.”

That’s an odd verbal choice, that “can,” because really—anything can be expensive. It’s a lot like saying, You should buy a bulldozer for your commuting purposes because traditional automobiles can be very expensive. Certainly not the most persuasive argument, and I found myself wishing they’d get back to the talk about destroying my physical body for free. But they continued, pointing out that,

“Cremation is a popular option all across America.”

The old appeal to what’s popular. This has never been a great choice for making major life decisions: after all, McDonald’s is popular, not only all across America but the whole world, yet we all know we shouldn’t eat their burgers. (And as a dedicated McDonald’s goer—I’m having a love affair with their hot fudge sundaes—trust me: people are most definitely going to McDonald’s. A whole lot of people. Way, way too many people!)

Additionally, “popular” is a nebulous and relative term: when Lindsey Graham announced his Presidential campaign (which, if his little boy’s face is any indication, he must have conflated with receiving a new scooter), about eighteen old white people in South Carolina got excited, and for a moment he was “popular.” But it was just a moment, and eventually we’ll realize that as a country we simply can’t get into enough wars to placate President Lindsey (though I’d like to think that if we elected Lindsey, everyone would get a new scooter and some McDonald’s under his reign).

The NCS pamphlet also promised “access to facilities nationwide,” which seems like a very valuable selling point when considering a membership with Gold’s Gym. But then, imagine this scenario: I live in Seattle but travel to South Carolina for a Lindsey Graham rally/potluck, where I consume the sub-McDonald’s quality food and die. Now, traditionally my body would have to be shipped all the way back to Seattle at tremendous cost, but if I’m an NCS member all that would be avoided and my body would be destroyed in South Carolina, which is likely the most dire thing I’ve ever written.

Lastly, my NCS membership would include a “fine wooden urn with momento kit,” which is simultaneously very quaint (a “fine wooden urn” brings to mind images of Michael Landon in Little House on the Prairie hand-carving a vessel for my earthly remains, which truthfully wouldn’t be the worst dying thought) and terribly depressing (a “momento kit”? Ugh, what is that? That’s about the most impersonal and disinfected phrase I can imagine.). And since I’m never one to miss out on a Lebwoski quote, I’ll simply note that this is the NCS’s most modestly priced receptacle.

I recently turned 38-years old. There’s really not much that happens when you turn 38. You take the day off from work, go to breakfast, read a book while having an afternoon beer, and go out to dinner with your friends. All the standard stuff. The only thing of note has to do with nomenclature, for once you’re 38 you can’t really be in your “mid-“30’s any longer. And so, having recently and undeniably entered my late-30’s, maybe it’s timely to begin considering the future of my bodily remains.

I have no issue with cremation. It seems like a reasonable option, probably less time-consuming and involved than a traditional burial, and likely more ecologically friendly. I’m not the sort of dualist who thinks that my true me is somehow distinct from my material body, and I’m also not overly concerned about the Resurrection of the Body. On that subject I take the Walt Disney approach, which holds that if God’s big enough to overcome death the act of reanimating my body will be easy as peaches.

The reality is that once I’m dead it’s unlikely that I’ll be worried about what anyone does with or to my body. Perhaps I should care more, but it’s difficult to muster up sufficient interest in the subject. Likely, I’ll die some day; hopefully it won’t be for a while. But for now, I’m only 38, which people tell me is the new 21, only with a receding hairline, a creakier body, and a lot less interest in others’ Instagram posts. Still, it beats the alternative, and all things considered I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

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