ROFL: Random Outbursts From Lar! LarryNocella.com

23Jul/07Off

Touching the Corpse of Someone You Love

Vanity Fair magazine recently held a contest for essays on this topic: In a country defined by video games, reality TV, and virtual friendships, with a White House that has perfected the art of politics as public relations, what is reality to Americans today? And did we ever have a grasp of it?

The judges have poor taste, which is obvious since they didn't choose my entry as a winner. Read my essay below and you too can wonder why on earth they didn't pick it. As for the winning essay, I provide no link to it. Go find it yourself if you're interested. I'm not giving those Vanity Fair bastards free hits!

P.S. I'm not really bitter, just acting like it for humor's sake. You win some, you lose some.

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Have you ever touched the corpse of someone you love?

Maybe you did it to be sure, maybe you did it out of morbid curiosity, or out of some cancerous hope. Any fantasy you are entertaining about him or her coming back is smashed on the cold hard flesh. The stiffness of the muscle is immediately recognizable as wrong, alien. You may even reflexively pull your hand back, as if your fingers have been burnt. They have, not by heat, but by an inescapable fact: the one you love is dead.

You can stand over their body, pray to all the gods you like, all the ones you don't believe in, even the ones you hate. Go ahead, take as long as you like. Reality lies before you, never checking its watch, never coughing politely. It is infinitely patient, waiting for you to acknowledge it.

* * *

There are few who haven't gone through this painful, universal experience. The older you get, the more likely you'll have the pleasure. It would be nice to take the emotional trauma out of this moment, to imagine the one you love has left their body and gone to a place of peace, some utopian afterlife where their every wish comes true.

That soothing lie was not lost on our primal ancestors, and it's not lost on modern man. An old friend of mine had a brother who died in a work accident. My friend went to a palm reader and asked about his deceased sibling. The mystic told him his brother was fine, relaxing in heaven. "I know it's not true," my friend shrugged, "but it makes me feel better."

* * *

"Wait a minute!" cry the believers, "You don't know what's beyond death!" True, but neither do you, and you cannot use my ignorance (actually our mutual ignorance) as some kind of proof. So we're at a stalemate. Almost. I'll propose that the burden of proof should be shouldered by whoever defends that which isn't obvious. Death? Obvious. Afterlife? Not.

Regardless, entertaining the afterlife fantasy isn't uniquely American. It's human. We are all certainly capable of experiencing reality, but we let it go when it suits us.

Is that a bad thing?

No. It harms no one to believe your beloved is frolicking in heaven, looking over your shoulder, floating on a cloud, etc. In fact, it's downright soothing, as my friend so concisely explained.

If entertaining fantasy worked so well in dealing with death, why not use it for any unpleasant, inconvenient painful truth?

Tsk. Tsk. Give a species a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.

* * *

So take the primal idea that sometimes reality is best ignored and pass it though the filter of thousands of years of natural selection. Fantasy survives the test of time because it's evolved. Now it's not just a matter of pretend; it's replacing reality with a better reality. Plastic surgery, genetic engineering and almost magical drugs are just a few of the infinite ways reality can be tailored. We still haven't conquered death, but the Grim Reaper definitely is getting slow in his old age.

"Life is what you make it," is working its way across town from the slums of cliché to the mansions of expansive truth. As with many social climbers, it has even treated itself to a slick, modern makeover:

I refer to the prefix "my-."

Don't be fooled by the lower case. my- sometimes does that to be cute, or pretend it's humble, but my- is king. No. my- is God, which is to say, it is everywhere and defines everything. Not bad for two letters and a hyphen!

How we interact with a computer governs (and reveals) how we interact with the world. Since my- rules the computer, my- rules them both. Do a quick net search on "my" and here's a sample of the millions of entries you'll find: mySpace, myYahoo, myFlorida, myUCLA, myTimes, on and on and on and on.

Biology gave me defective vision. Laser-surgery gave me myEyes. You too can have it all. myBreasts, myPenis, myHeart, myGender, myBaby, and so much more. All customizable, not just through the crude, pre-historic method of pretend, but through the wonder of technology.

What's wrong with that? Calling it all my- is just a trend.

Just a trend, you say? Ha! This is America, and one thing you can say for sure about America is that trends do not die young. So much can be tailored it's easy to believe everything can, and so the trend culminates (as they always do) in the absurd.

Welcome to myReality.

* * *

I'm not alone in preferring that a pilot see the ground where it really is, that he perceive the runway as dictated by reality, not where his myReality feels like placing it. Fortunately, few situations have myLife and myDeath in the balance, so as long as the pilot sees where to land according to reality, he can entertain his myReality as long as he likes.

The trouble starts when the pilots of the world (Presidents, CEOs, etc.) choose to ignore the facts on the ground, preferring instead to believe in their myReality. When politicians in charge of setting the laws for environmental protection choose to ignore the dangers of deforestation, poor air quality and diminishing water supplies, then we all have a problem. When the entire scientific community of the world believes global warming is a major problem and the leaders who make laws refuse to address it as such, we're all going to die.

It would be nice if environment-ignorers had their own ozone layer (myOzone) that they could choose to ignore as their planet (myEarth) burned. Unfortunately, my- loses traction when it comes to nature. There is no such thing as myEarth, myOzone, myOcean, myPolar Ice Caps. They are ours, all of ours: those who choose to value them, and those who choose to destroy them.

Terrorism is often viewed as an action. The definition should be expanded to include inaction. Ignoring our planet's sickness is equal to murdering it. Refusing to make environmental care the highest priority should be equal to a terrorist act of global proportions.

We need to speak this strongly. I'm not alone in preferring that when I die, there be someone left to pensively touch myCorpse.

* * *

If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

I've always found that question a sham. It's not profound or mind-expanding at all. It's ridiculous. Of course the tree makes a sound. You and the tree are subject to reality, not your myReality.

So, what is reality to Americans today? Same as it always was, except more aspects of it can be altered to suit individual tastes. And did we ever have a grasp on it? The only way to grasp it is to realize you can't grasp it all.

The mistake many critics make is they say the customizing isn't real, that a lack of problems isn't real. That's incorrect. The richest man in the world lives a life just as real as the poorest. Each perspective contributes. The key is remembering the sum of all our perspectives does not define reality. If we just keep that in mind, we'll begin to understand a stranger's life, we'll begin to see the realities none of us can customize, ignore or deny.

* * *

We began by discussing the harshest reminder of reality: the death of a loved one, confirmed by our sense of touch, denied by our sense of love. Human nature is such that a negative experience is often more reliable in hardening us to embrace truth, but beautiful experiences are just as real. They only feel like dreams.

Have you ever touched a newborn?

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Larry Nocella is the award-winning author of the novel Where Did This Come From? available at Amazon and Xlibris and other fine online book stores. Where Did This Come From? is also available as an eBook. For more info, visit Larry Nocella's website at www.LarryNocella.com.

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