I was watching a TV show earlier this week (In Treatment) where a psychologist asks his 12-year-old patient if she thinks about death. She stares at him like he has just exposed her secret. He leans a bit closer to her. "We all do, you know".
I don't know if everyone thinks about death, but I know I do. I always have. When I was little my burden was the certainty that I’d die young, because I could not conceive becoming a grown up. (Guess what, kid? You were wrong.) When I was a teenager I was defiant, challenging the possibility of my life ending, until a car crash proved I was just as mortal as the next guy (wrong again). I now mostly think of it in the context of vulnerability. My own, and that of the people I love. (Wrong again? Please?)
Through all of this I've assumed that one day I will be returned to the earth, my ashes scattered in a discreet location with a nice view. You know - ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
This is part of the reason I found the subject of the book "Grave Matters" so intriguing. I know funerals feature metal caskets, burial vaults and embalming fluid, but I had never really considered the consequences: embalmed and encased inside a metal casket, "dust to dust" is, well, unlikely.
The book, by Mark Harris, a former environmental columnist with the Los Angeles Times Syndicate, is "a journey through the modern funeral industry to a natural way of burial".
Whether you think about death or not, the funeral industry is one that most of us will contribute to. According to Harris, Americans bury more than 1.6 million tons of concrete and nearly 830,000 gallons of toxic embalming fluid a year, not counting enormous amounts of steel.
I want a green burial. A biodegradable casket. Maybe an ecopod that is handmade, comes in colors and is made of recycled paper.
In a green burial, my body would be placed in a simple coffin, if not like the one I describe above, then one made from cardboard or soft wood, like pine. I would be laid in a natural cemetery in rural land. No headstone, please. Plant a tree there instead.
If my body can return to the elements it came from, it can contribute to generating new life. And that is all the legacy I need.