Noilly Prattle: a diamond is forever

Saturday, February 28, 2015

a diamond is forever

       Events converge at times that make you think,—the way the late Douglas Adams put it—on * life, the universe and everything.

Spock - the final frontier
Some cardiac arrest patients recalled seeing
a bright light; a golden flash or the Sun shining
       Recently my only remaining aunt died at 90 (although my 98-year-old mother is still living independently); and just yesterday Mr. Spock, at 83, has gone beyond the ultimate frontier. Back in January, a friend, reflecting on deaths in the family, mentioned that she believes that consciousness continues after death (and pre-exists birth).

"tombs" consist of  400 40cm. squares
 arranged in a grid pattern

stone pagoda and
tombstone grid
        A couple days ago, while out in the country looking at plum blossoms, we came across a structure that was shaped like an unusually tall five-step stone pagoda. Upon closer inspection it turned out to be a new style cemetery that I though was pretty avant garde compared to a traditional Japanese cemetery.

        The business of dying, like the business of living, is in a constant state of change. I don't know who said it first, but I am fond of saying that change is the only constant in life—and who knows about after that? At any rate, dying is a big business here in Japan and it can be very expensive.

typical traditional family tomb
either refuse or deliberately
placed favorites of the deceased
        If you opt for a traditional Buddhist funeral and a traditional cemetery plot and tombstone it will cost several thousand dollars; the exact cost depending on how much of a splash you want make in the neighborhood. One item surprised me when I first heard about it. You have to have a special “name” that is supposed to facilitate your journey to the Pure Land. But you have to pay for it. That's bad enough, but there are different prices for the names—the more you pay for your “name” the easier your journey and entrance will be. Not to mention that all the neighbors can tell by the name how much you paid for it. Of course, they can also tell by the magnificence of your tombstone how much you paid for it, too. Yes, dying is all about status here in the land of Wa.

kotsuage - picking the bones ceremony
        Cremation is the norm in Japan. There is simply not enough land to spare for burial of the entire body. I thought cremation left nothing but ashes, but I received quite a shock when my father-in-law died and I attended my first Japanese funeral some years ago. The family had accompanied the body to the crematorium and were all waiting around chatting and eating and drinking and smoking while ojii-san was being cremated. One of my cousins-in-law was gleefully correcting my mistaken belief that we would get a nice urn of clean ashes when the process was finished. He was clearly enjoying my sense of shock at hearing that the skeleton would be relatively intact when they wheeled the still hot smoking gurney out of the oven...and that we would ritually be picking up pieces of bone with a set of large bamboo chopsticks and dropping them into the urn--known as (kotsuage - 骨揚げ) in Japan.

        Well, I don't know if consciousness continues after death. I certainly hope ojii-san wasn't conscious while we were picking his bones! But, I've heard of a better way of dealing with post-cremation bones. You can have them turned into diamonds. Imagine your surviving loved ones wearing you on their pierced ears or flashing a 2-carat diamond on their finger and saying: “Oh, yes, this is my late husband.” Better than moldering in the ground I say. And, you may or may not be conscious, but people will certainly be conscious of you as a beautiful diamond.

Joey in the Sky with Diamonds

* Life the Universe and Everything, Douglas Adams

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