Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Living: Eco-Friendly Funerals

by William Prendergast

Thinking about death this week, because of that latest useless shooting horror.

But let’s take a five minute break from talking about the senseless deaths of all those innocent people, and talk about something more lighthearted: my death.

When you’re rapidly headed toward age fifty (like this writer) you have to start thinking about things like that. Because if you don’t, your spouse does.

For the past couple of years, my wife (who is ordinarily very sensitive) has been periodically bugging me with questions about what kind of funeral arrangements I would like to have. I’ve given her several answers, all quite serious—but she dismisses these as flippant.

For example, one time I told her that I would like my head cut off and frozen (like Timothy Leary and baseball great Ted Williams.) The idea here is that some of the genetic material in the brain tissue could be used to clone some Bill Prendergast of the future when technology finally makes this possible, and my whining will go on for ever. But my wife balked at this idea, probably because it would necessitate her seeing my iced-over features each time she opened the freezer to get out the Ben and Jerry’s.

I’ve kind of gone off the idea myself for other reasons. The law on cryonic freezing is in its infancy; very new and unclear. So there is no guarantee that my head would be used in the way that I specified prior to my death. For example, one my future heirs might sell it to raise some quick cash to buy a case of beer or something, and then I might find myself exhibited as some kind of minor attraction at the 2107 Minnesota State Fair, with kids throwing softballs at it.

Or my head could end up an objet d’art in some yuppie apartment of the future. I hate the idea of someone coming home to his space apartment at the end of long day, saying “God, I could use a space drink!” and then heaving a sigh of relief as they take off their space jacket and casually toss it over my lifeless staring head.

Or maybe it would end up as the subject of discussion on the 22nd century edition of the Antiques Roadshow. (“Now this is a very nice example of a twenty-first century frozen head. As you can see, it’s the head of a white man with a bad hair-cut. And where did you get this, ma’am?” “I was defrosting my great grandmother’s old refrigerator, we found this in the freezer behind a stack of old Lean Cuisines. Great-grandma hadn’t ever defrosted the fridge, so this was kind of stuck up against the back wall, the cheek was frozen to the ice-cube maker—“ “Yes, yes, yes. Well, what if I told you, that it was actually worth two thousand dollars?” “My goodness. As much as that? Almost enough to buy a pack of space cigarettes.”)

Well, the hell with that. So the next time she asked, I told my wife that I would like to be cremated and then have the ashes flushed down the toilet. But she didn’t want to do that either. I explained to her that I had contempt for the fleshly aspect of my existence, that the mind and consciousness and memory were all that I was or cared about. After death eliminated these, a “funeral ceremony” involving the flushing of ashes would demonstrate the sincerity of my faith and views. (Anyway, I am not sentimental about my body. It has always been a disappointment to me, and to others. I see no need to prolong or forestall the process of disintegration; my body’s already disintegrating and I’m not even done with it yet.)

But then today I saw this article:

Scientist says cremation should meet a timely death
Wed Apr 18, 10:30 AM ET

SYDNEY (AFP) - An Australian scientist called Wednesday for an end to the age-old tradition of cremation, saying the practice contributed to global warming.

Professor Roger Short said people could instead choose to help the environment after death by being buried in a cardboard box under a tree.

The decomposing bodies would provide the tree with nutrients, and the tree would convert carbon dioxide into life-giving oxygen for decades, he said.

"The important thing is, what a shame to be cremated when you go up in a big bubble of carbon dioxide," Short told AFP.

"You can actually do, after your death, an enormous amount of good for the planet," he said. "The more forests you plant, the better."

A cardboard box, under a tree. Wow. Man's fate.

But...okay. That makes sense. The problem would be getting a cardboard box big enough to do the trick. I’ve got some old Hewlett-Packard computer printer boxes around here somewhere, in the basement, I think (I keep them around in case I ever have to ship anything back to HP, but so far I’ve never had to. Fine product.) I suppose I could duct-tape a few of these boxes together and improvise some kind of a “cardboard container” for my final journey.

But I think it would be very unwieldy, very tough on the pallbearers. And it would look kind of shabby, too, wouldn’t it? I’d always envisioned a big Catholic funeral for myself, like the one they had for JFK--I think hauling a bunch of duct-taped computer printer boxes in a carriage drawn by four coal-black horses would look kind of “down market.” A bit “white trash."

Probably best to skip the box altogether. Just give the organ donor people first crack at my remains, then drive out to the woods and dig a hole near some nice looking young tree that looks like it could use a little help getting started--and then dump what’s left of me in there stark naked, the way I came into the world. Then fill up the hole, and let nature take its course.

Never mind the global warming angle; the part I really like about this plan is that it completely screws the undertakers out of tens of thousands of dollars.

And screw the duct tape people, and HP, too. Let that be my epitaph.



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