Saturday, December 18, 2010

Long Legged Beasties

The crash in the night was not unexpected. Anyone with cats -- let alone 5 cats as we have -- comes to expect the occasional proverbial nocturnal bump. But this one was different, louder, closer, more complex, clearly a whole collection of things plunging to floor from the top on my dresser. I turned on the light.

Zelig, holy one, a rambunctious, young tuxedo cat with comically large back feet, was fleeing the interview. And in the midst of a pile of cat toys, my watch and necklaces and the little tin bin that holds them (the prior glass bowl having succumbed to a similar plunge) was a little ceramic urn, broken into 4 large shards. And what it contained: a little plastic baggie full of gritty beige dust that used to be my mother.

I surveyed the destruction and shuddered inwardly at the sight of the plump baggie. I did not like it. Outside of its funerary urn, it looked like something from the DEA's evidence room. I poked it with a finger, recoiling from the slippery, gritty, powdery feel. Worse, I felt laughter beginning to flocculate up through my annoyance and revulsion. I remembered the hilarity that had overcome me as the minister at my Mother's memorial intoned a passage from Wisdom, King James of course, something about the good Christian wife and mother rising in the middle of the night to make meat for her family. I'd prayed that the assembly would assume my shoulders were twitching and heaving from uncontrollable grief, not barely-contained laughter.

What kind of daughter must I be to find so much comedy in my dead mother ?

The body is a treasure trove of comedy. There are rich veins of hilarity in orifice-based bodily functions: eating, fucking, pissing, shitting, barfing, belching, farting, sneezing, and even the slightly more sublimated nose-picking. Not to mention the vaudeville of pratfalls, nudity, vagaries of body size and facial configuration, pies in the face, banana peels under the shoe, all sorts of yukking it up from the puerile to the sophisticated to the downright cruel: Aggression, vulnerability, absurdity and anxiety -- incarnation is a laff riot !

Death is the ultimate and universal anxietogenic bodily event. Theravadan monks sit in charnel grounds and contemplate decaying corpses. Do any topple over in gales of laughter ? Episcopalians, even at the grave, "make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia," which is, don't you think, sonically related to hahaha heehee hahaha. And, of course, there is the whole eternal life and resurrection thing, NewYorkersfull of cartoon St Peters at the pearly gates accompanied by whole oratorios of graveyard whistling. So what is it, then ? The nervous titter of the threatened ? The fond laughter of the wiser parts of the self at the silly rituals of the frightened inner child ? The joyous laughter of realization of the profound grace of "being-here-at-all" as one skids toward its bright horizon ?

So which is it, then, Zelig, my little holy one ?

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