Have Ashes, Will Travel

by Maggie Van Ostrand

“I can’t go on,” I bawled to the empty room. Markus, my beloved canine companion who had been with me for over 14 adventure filled years, had passed away two weeks earlier. It was the worst time of my life, and I was so busy suffering that I wouldn’t answer the phone or the doorbell to allow kind friends to comfort me. I wanted no consolation for none could dissipate the knot in my chest, nor fill the place in my heart where Markus once lived. It was a far worse natural disaster than previously experienced, like fires and earthquakes. They only took my home. This one took my heart.

About a week into my period of self-imposed isolation, someone shoved a newspaper clipping under the front door. It was from the Los Angeles Times. It said grief counseling for pet owners was to take place at 7:00 p.m. that very evening at the Glendale Adventist Medical Center, about 40 minutes drive from my house. “Maybe I’ll go,” I muttered, “I really must do something. I can’t go on like this. It’s time to get a grip,” and I weaved through the freeway traffic to Glendale. Perhaps professional help would ease the pain and enable me to function.

At the Information Desk in the Medical Center, I showed the man in charge the newspaper article and confirmed that pet owner grief counseling was to be held in the Chaplain’s office in half an hour. The man clucked sympathetically, pointed me toward the appropriate door, and pushed a pamphlet across the desk claiming that reading it would help me accept and ultimately overcome my pain. Waiting in the hallway for the chaplain to arrive and unlock his office was a sad-looking woman dressed in black. She was shifting from one foot to the other, her hands twisting a damp handkerchief with which she occasionally daubed at her eyes. Perhaps, I thought, if I can get her to talk , it will distract me from my own loss. Isn’t that what life is all about? People helping people? Finding a connection? She looked at me and I don’t think I ever before saw so much sadness in a pair of eyes. She looked as I felt. A kindred soul.

After introducing herself, she asked compassionately, “When did you suffer your loss?” “I lost my Markus two weeks ago,” I sniffed, feeling my chin begin to tremble and my eyes to well up. “It’s been nearly a year since I lost my Kenny and I’m not over it yet,” she said slowly, gazing into the distance at an invisible horizon. We talked about how difficult it was to be with someone for years and years only to have them suddenly go. Just like that. Snatched away when you weren’t expecting it. We talked about how, even if we had expected it, there’s really no preparation for the devastating feelings rampant in the survivor. She had opted for Kenny’s cremation, as I had with Markus, and both of us had decided not to scatter the ashes but to keep them with us.

“My ashes, I told the woman, “are in my car in the parking garage downstairs. I couldn’t bear going anywhere without Markus.” “Mine are in the bedroom we shared for so long. It’s comforting to know that part of my Kenny is still with me. I confided that when I wasn’t driving around with his ashes, Markus also was kept in my bedroom just like when he was alive. “Twin beds?” Catherine inquired, continuing, “That’s what we had after my Kenny got the cancer.” “No, we slept in the same bed. Markus never got sick. He just died. No warning, just died.” “Oh you poor thing,” she said, putting her arms around me. What people say about sharing feelings and the magic of a hug is true.

A bit of the sadness lifted from my mind and I began to hope that it wouldn’t be too long before I could return to work. It was right about then that she said, “It’s worse for me at this time of year. My Kenny was going to get an RV and drive us to Phoenix.” “What?” “Kenny was going to rent an RV and we were going to drive to Phoenix,” she said louder, “Say, what’s the matter. You’ve gone all white. You look just awful.” The woman was talking about her husband and I was talking about my dog. I had been directed to the wrong grief center, the one for spouses, not pets.

“Uh, I don’t feel well,” I said, swiping at my forehead with a Kleenex. “I understand dear,” she said patting my arm, “It’s just too soon for you to be out in public.”

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Tweeting the Classics

Nobody sits down to compose a letter these days. Instead, they talk, text, or Tweet, so we’ve prepared a time-saver for those hipsters, geeks, and Twitteristas who haven’t the time to reduce the classics to Twitter’s required 140 characters, counting spaces. We’ve prefaced them with the originals, in the event you may want to save them in your ditty bag.

We begin with Hamlet’s iconic soliloquy, followed by our own Tweetment.

THE REAL THING:

Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio: a fellow
of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy: he hath
borne me on his back a thousand times; and now, how
abhorred in my imagination it is! my gorge rims at
it. Here hung those lips that I have kissed I know
not how oft. Where be your gibes now? your
gambols? your songs? your flashes of merriment,
that were wont to set the table on a roar? Not one
now, to mock your own grinning? quite chap-fallen?
Now get you to my lady’s chamber, and tell her, let
her paint an inch thick, to this favour she must
come; make her laugh at that.

THE TWEET:

Knew Yo, Ho: miss your funny standup
Lokt lips plenty & frolikt then
Now stinky dead dude disgusting me
This skull, so what? Tmw we all die LOL

And what about Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address? If he could have, would he have Tweeted it?

THE REAL THING

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met here on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of it as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But in a larger sense we can not dedicate – we can not consecrate – we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled, here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but can never forget what they did here.

It is for us, the living, rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they have, thus far, so nobly carried on. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us – that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion – that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom; and that this government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

THE TWEET:

United States formed 87 yrs back
Decided all men same
Big fight anyway
Lots dead both sides, not for nothing
freedom rocks
of, by, for, everyone

And what would the world be reading today had Elizabeth Barrett’s famed love sonnet been Tweeted to Robert Browning?

THE REAL THING:

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with a passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints, — I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life! — and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

The sonnet has 613 characters, including spaces. Tweeting Mr. Browning would have meant Barrett’s cutting her work down to this:

THE TWEET:

Lve u? Lts see
deep wide high
soul far out
candles righteous dudes
humble dudes
passion faith
saints r out
laffs cries
lifelong emotions
better dead

There’s no doubt that texting and Twittering save time and energy, but they sure suck the life out of literature.