I thought this was going to be a relatively light piece, about how funerals make you reflective and we are being denied that in these pandemic times. Even so, there is a sense of an overall funeral-like mood these days. Everything is stark — life and death, good and evil. That was my premise until I realized I was being insensitive. It is a “mood” for me — but it is real state of being for many others.
In fact, that is what the Black Lives Matter movement is all about. I don’t have to fear when I walk to the store with my arms swinging (Elijah McClain). I don’t have to fear when I get pulled over for a broken taillight (Julian Edward Roosevelt Lewis ). I don’t have to fear for my life because I am protecting a monarch butterfly habitat (Homero Gómez González, Raúl Hernández Romero), or for protecting my ancestral lands (Berta Cáceres). On and on ad infinitum.
I have a place to live. I have a pension. I am safe. I am fortunate. I am privileged. I recognize that on a scale measuring real threats to peaceful existence, with 1 being no sense of fear to 100 being targeted for harm, I am a 1. It has to do with where I live (rural Hawaii, with whom I live (family), my own choice to not let unsubstantiated fear rule my life, and because I don’t leave home unless I have to. Because I am insulated, I find it useful to adopt a funeral mindset to keep me from being too complacent.
A Funeral Mindset
When I was younger, I used to hate funerals. I found them creepy, especially when there’s an open casket. Eventually, especially when I had lost someone close to me, I found them to be necessary. They provide a way to be connected to the person one last tangible time. In the honoring of their lives, there’s this inevitable tendency to reflect on your own life. I don’t know if it’s a thing, or if it’s just me, but I almost always leave a funeral with a mix of sadness for the loss of the loved one, and ironically, vigor, committed to live more meaningfully and purposefully. Since the pandemic, I have lost two people who I was close to, and for whom we have not been able to have funeral services yet. Neither of them were victims of Covid but both were too young. Losing them has been heartbreaking. But losing them in this time is disconcerting. Like there’s something amiss, unsettling.
When you infuse your life with that same reflective mood that you left the funeral with, that is a funeral mindset. You are lucky to be alive. For some reason, you are alive and they, sadly, are not. It is a gift. It is not to be taken for granted. With a funeral mindset, you look at everything in extreme life and death ways and you want your life to count for something, to carry on the fight for those who can’t anymore. For those who lost their lives in this war for racial and environmental justice, I will live for them. For those who died senseless deaths because of our country’s lax gun laws, I will live for them. For those who died before they could contribute to the betterment of the world, I live for them.
Mourning John Lewis
I have also mourned one of my heroes, an extraordinary man, civil and human rights icon, the Representative John Lewis. I was hoping he would live forever. He would have had this extraordinary funeral even if not in the time of the pandemic, but because it’s happened now, at a time when we couldn’t mourn for our own loved ones in our real lives, we had a semblance of it in his funeral. No, it doesn’t replace the service we will eventually have, but it helps.
Something moved in my consciousness. Mostly because of the pandemic and quarantine, and the protests, everything seems heightened. I am super aware that we are living in life and death times, a war between good and evil. There is no room for moderation, for pussy-footing around. Every choice you make, every stance you take is either life-supporting or death-inducing, either for good or for evil. When I wrote my first editorial for the junior high school paper, my teacher said I was prone to hyperbole. So — hyperbole alert. The hyperbole is real.
Life and Death Matters Abound
Climate change is better understood as climate cancer according to Simon Sinek. The USPS situation is the death of democracy, the evidence of fascism. If we can outsmart our current fascist president, democracy will be brought back to life. People seeking asylum are doing so because they are in life and death situations. America is no longer the beacon of freedom and life that it used to be. Under this current administration, ICE and the border police are purveyors of death, and the US is not the beloved country known for taking in “your tired, your poor. Your restless masses yearning to be free.“ Black lives matter. The abortion issue is of course, a life and death matter. Trump supporters cling to the illusion that given another term, Trump will deliver on his promise to overturn Roe v. Wade. (That is a huge issue and I am not ignoring it, I’ll write about it another time.) Never mind that his lack of leadership has contributed to over 170,000 deaths (and climbing). Never mind that he doesn’t care. “It is what it is.” Never mind that a national testing plan was scrapped because it seemed that only blue states were affected. Never mind that mailed medications are being delayed because of the deliberate slowdown of the USPS. They did not and do not care about life.
Being able to drill down to the life/death aspect of a situation amplifies the divisiveness that characterizes the country right now. As strongly as I feel that I am choosing the side of life, my counter might feel just as strongly that they are. I have friends who believe in QAnon; the life/death situation for them is that they are fighting Satan, Hollywood pedophiles. This is why they are so passionate, so fervent, so adamant in their stance. They are standing against Satan, the harbinger of evil and death. There is nothing you can say or do to change their minds. There is nothing that Trump can say or do that will change their minds — not even a loved one dying from Covid or because their medication was delayed due to the deliberate slowdown of the USPS.
But it’s not about changing their minds, it’s about knowing ours.
It’s important to know what’s going on, to stay informed and not block out the world and all the drama out there. We have to accept that we will be angered if we are engaged. We will see people and actions that will make us wonder about the human race, and then want to look away. We can’t. At the very least, we are witnesses. We need to do what we can. We need to protect the vulnerable. Decry corruption. Seek justice. Speak out. Give money. Buy conscientiously. They think there’s this evil entity they name Satan, yet they always seem to excuse and dismiss evil in their midst, like a president teeming with corruption, incompetence, self-aggrandizement, dishonesty and immorality.
A Funeral Mindset Calls Us To Live Purposefully
In pandemic and non-pandemic times, we are given opportunities to choose life or death. We do this when we choose helpfulness over hurtfulness. Compassion over condemnation. Honesty over lies. Truth over deceit. Empathy over egotism. Kindness over hate. We can respond like a firm teacher to people who send us misleading pro-Trump messages; we can write essays like this which will probably never read by them; we can reply to their skewed memes on Facebook. But that is not the bulk of what we need to do.
We need to walk our walk. We need to be who we are and tell the world who we are. We need to represent the side that is choosing life over death. We need to tell the world that we stand for good. You can do it on social media, to a point, but real life standing up is walking the walk. The videos of those ugly selfish anti-mask tantrum throwers are hurting their brand. We need to take the higher ground for the side of justice, equality, kindness, love. That’s our side.
I bought a t-shirt on Etsy that had a portrait of George Floyd on it with words — Equality Now. I walk every morning, and once a week I get something at my neighborhood café — my contribution to the local economy though I definitely don’t need the pastries. I was wearing this t-shirt and the owner’s husband, a white man, complimented me on it. It was nice that someone saw it, and that I found solidarity with him. The proceeds went to support a BLM cause, which was my reason for buying it. Spreading messages like this is a way we can walk our walk. And if you are a kind person walking your walk, wearing a “message” t-shirt, the message of kindness will be associated with you and the cause of justice and good and love and life.I have more t-shirts coming in the mail. Oh no!
Diane Aoki is a writer who explores other modes of creativity as her intuition leads her.