Dust to Dust
by Greg Bangs


I wish to reveal a more personal, perhaps darker part of myself. And before I begin, there are those prefaces that, for clarification, must be mentioned. To deny that death plays a role in life would be foolish: from a child’s first conception of death to his final, those last moments of breath, death leaves an impression. Foolish, too, would it be to say that every man’s relationship with death is one of the fearful and the feared. Death is deeply personal, and it is to be expected that as philosophies of life differ, so too do those of death.

Were I ever to die, I would like to be cremated. I do not propose, however, to be burned in our neighborhood crematorium, hidden from the eyes of my beloveds. No, I will be laid to rest on a pyre.

I am not, of course, worthy of so grand a pyre as is called to mind. I am no warrior and I am no king. Remove, therefore, any thought of those Norse longboats in which lie wealth and fame and a man distinguished and noble. Flame will lick and heat will tear at no such construction; I am no such man. Rather, think to those bonfires you have witnessed on our own shores.

Perhaps this wish seems barbaric, perhaps it seems a ploy. I assure you that it is neither. Barbaric would be to drain my blood, to fill my veins with anti-freeze. A ploy would it be to paint my face, to clasp my hands that my family might see me in death and forget me in life. The unnaturalness of such burial is repulsive; I fear it as we fear the unholy, and though I question religion, I am spiritual. Understand that such burial opposes my beliefs.

There is no consciousness after death. To suppose that one exists is to propound a dualistic Man, for the crossing of the soul into Heaven or into the Field of Reeds leaves behind an empty shell. And here is my firm belief: I am one. When I cease to breathe, I will no longer be. And so the ashes from my pyre will not be mine, they will belong to the earth. In death, I relinquish claim.

Still, you would not be wrong to question my desire to burn. My reasons are not simple, and I do not entirely understand them. Perhaps I wish to be as Dido, to find a false immortality through memory and through flame, but I would like to suggest a different reason.

There is seduction to be found in the forces of nature. We are mortal in the face of the elements and in their power we see the divine. Who has felt the lap of a wave without the wish, however momentarily, to remain within the water’s eternal grasp? Who has laid in the fresh, cold snow without the flash of that thought tearing across your mind, the thought that this snow might hold you forever? Yes, fire flirts, it beckons and it hypnotizes; and stronger men than I have surrendered.

As for those ashes of the earth, they shall be given to the winds of Northern California, on a bluff over the Pacific.