Monday, January 24, 2011

Speaker for the Dead

I just started reading Orson Scott Card's Speaker for the Dead.

The book begins with an introduction by Card. In the second paragraph of his 14-page intro I found something I have always felt, but have never been able to articulate so well. I feel chagrined as I have not even cracked open a Card book until recently when I could not put down Ender's Game. Although, I think at this age, I am more able to enjoy, ponder and unravel my own thoughts more clearly thanks to his storytelling.

This is what I found:

How did Speaker for the Dead come to be? As with all my stories, this one began with more than one idea. The concept of a "speaker of the dead" arose from my experiences with death and funerals. I have written of this at greater length elsewhere; suffice it to say that I grew dissatisfied with the way that we use our funerals to revise the life of the dead, to give the dead a story so different from their actual life that, in effect we kill them all over again. No, that is too strong. Let me just say that we erase them, we edit them, we make them into a person much easier to live with than the person who actually lived.

I rejected that idea. I though that a more appropriate funeral would be to say, honestly, what that person was and what that person did. But to me, "honesty" doesn't' simply mean saying all the unpleasant things instead of saying only the nice ones. It doesn't even consist of averaging them out. No, to understand who a person really was, what his or her life really meant, the speaker for the dead would have to explain their self-story--what they meant to do, what they actually did, what they regretted, what they rejoiced in. That's the story that we never know, the story that we never can know--and yet, at the time of death, it's the only story truly worth telling.

That's how I feel about funerals. About all the glossy, nipping/tucking of words and personality that happens at funerals. I don't want that at all. I try my best to live a genuine life. I want to be someone with which there is no guessing. Someone who you know exactly where she stands. One where no matter who I am with, I am the same person. I grew up watching adults act one way in front of certain people, and then another way in front of others. I saw adults who would excite our hope by saying they'd invite us over to their pool - and feel crushed and betrayed when we discovered that's only "polite conversation". There's nothing polite about insincerity. Nothing.

So I hope, that at my funeral, my girls, and whomever is around, will do this for me. Perhaps I should take the time to write one myself one day. I want a true accounting of my actions, both good and bad. I want people to know where my intentions lay and how I succeeded in those, and how I misstepped, so that hopefully, the next generation can learn from my life in some small measure.

I am so grateful for authors who take some nagging thought that has been bothering me for years, and speak it for me. Perhaps, when I pass, my story will be one worth telling.

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