Well it come ‘round your house but don’t stay long — Look out the window one of your family be gone –No, death don’t have no mercy in this land.
Maybe it has something to do with the season. You know, being autumn in the Northern Hemisphere and all.
The only thing I know is friends and acquaintances seem to be slipping loose from the tree of life like so many leaves in in a New England landscape this time of year. Settling to the ground to rest in peace. Some, as always, much faster than others.
Striving for a bit of chronological accuracy, in truth, the apparent upsurge in mortality started back before the earthquake that shook many of us to the bone, back in September. In fact, I can’t remember just when it became clear for me that I was getting funeral notices about once a week.
One neighbor’s father died after living well into his 90’s and having populated an entire neighborhood in my town with offspring. A month later on a drizzly Saturday afternoon, my friend Alexis was being lowered into the ground just meters from his father’s tomb in the appropriately named town of Huacas.
Even before the advent of Facebook, news of death travelled with a velocity rivaled only by news of blatant cuckoldry. Now, with social media providing the digital megaphone, one mouth can reach hundreds of pairs of ears with a click of the mouse or the press of a button.
Just this morning, I noticed that two of my digital amigas had changed their ‘portraits’ to the familiar black wreath icon that symbolizes the pass of the Grim Reaper, cutting a swath close to their lives. That’s how I found out that their grandmother, Doña Julia, the matriarch of one of the hardworking and prosperous landowning families in our area, had passed into the same eternity which awaits us all. Even those who shout to the four winds the dubious wisdom of living for the moment.
Modern commercial culture has somehow conspired to scare off the specter of death as incompatible with the ceaseless gobbling up of goodies, gadgets and other gratifications that keeps the wheels spinning away on the consumption based economy. After all, a mindfulness of the future might just make you think twice about all those trinkets, junkets and just plain junk that we think we just can’t live without. But there’s no market based substitute for the solidarity of family and friends who are digging, laying block and plastering as I write, through the night, to prepare a proper resting place for Doña Julia.
Ironically, in the confusing nether world where issues of morality are bandied about in the tainted waters of political discourse, there’s an ongoing debate about what constitutes a proper family structure wherein the raising of children can best be accomplished. Maybe I just didn’t notice, but nobody seems to give a hoot about what works when the elders near the end of the road. Correct me if I’m wrong but in the ongoing theater of the presidential debates, so far it’s a non-issue the planning for the assisted care needs of an estimated 11 million baby boomers in the not-too-distant future. As a matter of fact, the much-ballyhooed ‘nuclear family’—Dad, Mom, two or three kids and a dog—is a fairly recent development in the historical record. Correlation—if not causality—can be attributed to such factors as affluence, increasing energy use, and the kind of constant economic growth in certain countries and certain areas, especially post WWII.
Poor areas, especially poor rural areas, especially poor rural areas in Third World countries, somehow never made the great leap forward into the nuclear family age. The whole damn family included aunts, uncles, a cousin or two, all under the same roof as the situation demanded. The result being, many in Guanacaste reach the end of the road in their own homes tended, mourned and prepared for interment by caring members of extended families, people for whom the phrase ‘family values’ is more than a political buzz word. In Guanacaste, it’s a way of life.
Over the years I’ve seen the desperate calculus of foreign transplants who get the medical version of a ‘Dear John’ letter and decide to pull up roots and head for home. Be it the guaranteed medical care available in Europe or the familiar lingo and surroundings back in the US, it might be argued that home is not just where the heart is but where you decide that your earthly remains do in fact remain.
Given what seems to be my own gathering momentum down a slope that seems ever steeper with the passage of time, each ‘passing’ brings a pause for reflection, introspection about the road I’ve chosen to travel.
Having artfully disassembled the ‘ties that bind’, I struck out for greener pastures, deluded, frankly, that the lure of the tropics would draw friends and family alike to pitch their tents and forge their futures as in some kind of pioneer epic. It didn’t exactly work out according to the script. Unlike most local landowners, I may have sunk deep roots, but the proverbial tree did not bear an abundance of fruit.
For a solo cowboy, I find it easy to envy the sons and daughters of these lowlands, connected in a primal way with the soil that nourished them and to which they return, seldom as solitary passengers on the round trip voyage from ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Immersed in the rites of passage—birth, the vitality of youth, the infirmity of age, death, graveside—from an early age, they get the life cycle on a gut level and don’t need poets to remind them:
“Therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls it tolls for thee.” John Donne
And for the last word, I’ll reference Rene, one of my workers who, when I told him I was writing about all the recent deaths locally, remarked, “Don’t worry, for every one that dies around here at least two are born.” Precisely the point, and life goes on.
Tom Peifer is an ecological land use consultant with 18 years experience inGuanacaste. 2658-8018. firstname.lastname@example.org
El Centro Verde is dedicated to researching and promoting sustainable land use, permaculture and environmentally sound development http://www.elcentroverde.org/