Thursday, May 24, 2012

When it's Time to Say Goodbye, you Never See it Coming but the Flag is Still Passed to You and Your Job is to Keep it Safe, but What a Responsibility that is on Your Shoulders to do Your Part to Help Keep Society Afloat

Relevance to CM:  Keep reading, but I think the title explains most of it.
I received word, at approximately 0430, this morning, that my Aunt Virginia had passed on last night.  She was a very sweet lady who welcomed everyone into her home, saw that they were fed, and always made an ear available for their troubles.  She always had something wise and/or witty that cheered me up.  While she had never taught in a classroom, she always had this way of redirecting my anxieties about teaching situations.

And now... she's gone.  She was 94 years old.  One will point out that it was just "her time", and yes I'm grateful for such a long life she had lived, but that never makes it easy to lose someone like that.  In fact, it makes it incredibly more difficult.

Aunt Virginia was a part of society's backbone.  I've seen the world around me and continue to get increasingly disturbed by what I see.  Over the past several months, I've seen various role-models from my generation continue to drop like flies.

I would like to pose a question:  What does one do when they've all gone, there's no-one left to look up to, and you're all alone?

We get passed the flag, and our job is to carry it to the next station.  What a huge responsibility, especially for us as teachers.  Our job is to help transform our snowflakes into enlightened citizens with integrity. That becomes increasingly difficult if they were never filled with integrity to begin with, and increasingly burdensome when integrity continues to disappear from around you.

For me, it becomes so burdensome that I often contemplate taking the exam early.
One thing that really gets to me is that, on this planet, one sometimes must sell their integrity just to be able to eat.
If I could go out on a limb here...
One of the major sources of pain and fear in this universe is death.  If there was no death, then so many things would not be an issue.  For starters, one could no longer be threatened to be killed by others.  Wars would become pointless.  As Da'an the Taelon put it, "you actually slaughter each other over matters of the spirit."
Let's take a tour of the galaxy... 
THN 101:  An Introduction to Federation Thanatology (Death Rituals, Beliefs, and Practices)

(The following reads like the Wikipedia article from hell and contains several references to science fiction works.  The purpose here is to share my misery by giving you a look inside of my psyche that is currently having a breakdown.  If you like, you may stop reading now and make like the post ends here.)


Humans - wow, there's so much going on here that it often resembles one big happy salad (much like my mental state right now).  I am a mathematical hologram, not a thanatologist.  Fear and uncertainty about death on this planet are handled via faith and/or (pseudo)scientific methods.  Much about any form of afterlife is pure speculation/faith on this world.  Some (pseudo)scientists speculate that a soul may occur naturally as a result of quantum entanglement inside of neurons.   (See the second to the last paragraph under the section "Consciousness and the Soul" in Chopra's article.)
  There is also a movement among humans that teaches that humans are too sinful to enter into Heaven, but that God will let them in anyway if they ask before they die.  (I personally subscribe to this one, as it seems to be the most peaceful and logical one for me as a hologram.  You may feel free to disagree.  Ironically, this one also makes me think of  students who try to say it's our fault for flunking, though they never once tried to get help.)
Taelons - beings composed mostly of energy, this species actually has its own afterlife.  When they die, their energy simply changes form.  The Taelons refer to this as "passing/ascending to the next level."  They belong to a psychic link called the commonality.  While it's not quite a shared or collective consciousness, they are aware when another Taelon is injured or dies.  In fact, dead Taelons can communicate with other Taelons via the commonality.  In some cases, Taelons can be haunted by an upset Taelon spirit, in which case that spirit can be banished eternally from the commonality through a ritual known as H'jathra.
    Note:  Taelons can also perform a kind of ritualistic suicide known as "embracing the void" or "willing themselves to the next level."  They simply lie on a bed and just pass-on. 
    Note:  Da'an also confirms that humans have a soul, though it is not as evolved.

Bajorans - Next to the Taelons, perhaps the most deeply spiritual of the species in the Alpha-Quadrant, they believe in a group of entities known as the prophets.  Bajorans believe that the Prophets reside in a Celestial Temple.  It is also believed by the Bajorans that, upon death, a person is guided by the Prophets to heaven (the Celestial Temple).  At the climax of the Dominion War, Benjamin Sisko had shed his corporeal existence, and now resides with the Prophets.

Klingons - gotta love 'em!  Ruthless war-mongerers; death pervades their society greatly.  While complete speculation, this species believes in an afterlife that rewards individuals who have died with honor (and that often depends on whether they had died on the winning side of a battle).  Klingon heaven is called Stovokor, and resembles Bal'hala to some extent.  A boat, known as the Barge of the Dead, is used for escorting dead Klingons to the afterlife.

Talaxians - (okay so they're from the Delta-Quadrant) poor poor Neelix!  He died, and was resurrected 17 hours later by Borg nano-probes (ewww!).  Their afterlife is known as the Great Forest.  Upon death, it is believed that one is reunited with their loved ones at a location known as the Guiding Tree.  
    Having lost his family in the Metreon Cascade on Rinax, Neelix was understandably heart-broken when he awoke to find that he had died and there was nothing.  Commander Chakotay tried to console him by offering the possibility that 17 hours was probably not enough time for something to happen.  Neelix attempted to take the exam early, but it was young Naomi Wildman who had got him to change his mind.  Chakotay also offered that life is still worth living, even if there is no afterlife.  (Personally, I'm gonna go with the 17 hours theory, just sayin'.)

Ferengi - don't let them come near me.  Worse than a crack-head, this species will rob you blind for their fix.  They are addicted to wealth, and they believe in an afterlife that rewards you if your profit was positive at time of death.  The analogs of Heaven and Hell are the Divine Treasury  and the Vault of Eternal Destitution, respectively.

So, that completes our discussion of Federation Death Rituals, Beliefs and Practices.  Thank you for letting me share my misery of the day!


Warp-speed Aunt Virginia!  Warp-speed.


  1. Sorry, EMH. It's a hard thing, losing our elders, our inspirations, our mentors and loved ones. But every generation before us has believed they lived at a moment of crisis and danger: often they've been right, but we're still muddling through.

    You missed the reincarnation traditions: not a lot of them in Roddenberry's universes, but the Asian tradition and Babylon 5's Minbari (who are in the end, apparently right about these things) believe that souls persist and return. (There's a mystical Jewish tradition as well, that posits souls returning to life until they've learned all the lessons they need) This feels a little bit like a horror story to me ("you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave" as the song says), but there's always an escape clause: nirvana, moksha, heaven, etc.

    The Minbari also believe that soul is a sort of genetic heritage, and children carry pieces of their ancestors' souls: a deep abiding connection between the generations. I've always liked that bit.

  2. My condolences.I think of my parents as I read E.E. Cummings below and I know I am not alone.
    I carry your heart with me (I carry it in my heart)I am never without it (anywhere
    I go you go,my dear; and whatever is done by only me is your doing,my darling)
    I fear no fate (for you are my fate,my sweet)I want no world (for beautiful you are my world,my true)
    and it's you are whatever a moon has always meant and whatever a sun will always sing is you

    here is the deepest secret nobody knows
    (here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
    higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
    and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart

    I carry your heart (I carry it in my heart)

  3. EMH, my mother died a few months ago from a short, brutal, totally unexplained and unexpected illness, much too young. I got to take care of her and watch her do it. I think I understand where you're coming from. In fact, I'm sure I do.

    What do you do when when it feels like there should be a real grownup to handle all this and you can't take any more? You integrate your Aunt Virginia into your own psyche. You remember that if you want to honor her, your life needs to be better for having had her in it, not worse. And that means no checking out early.

    You become her, or the parts you can become, and you keep plugging away, and then the sun comes out again because she's still here. And you tell death to go fuck itself because you're still here.

    The fear will pass. Just keep breathing.

    1. Condolences for your mother, and thanks for sharing good advice. Have you read "I am a Strange Loop?"

  4. College misery is not supposed to make me cry! (but I am touched)

  5. My condolences for your Aunt Virginia.

    "What does one do when they've all gone, there's no-one left to look up to, and you're all alone?"

    We carry on in their place, since we're the adults now. It's our turn: let's do our best to give a world to those who come after us that is better than the one we got. Our generation so far hasn't been good about that, but hope springs eternal.

    (I wouldn't know where to begin on social justice, but I think I can do something about energy, if nothing else by helping to place students in good programs.)

  6. EMH, you remember her words when you need them the most. They'll still bring comfort and sadness, all at the same time. I can't tell you why it hurts or how long it will hurt; I can only say that I am sorry that you are hurting.

    Grief is a powerful emotion. I know you feel like you want to "take the exam early." What about the other people around you? Would they not also notice your absence?

    Sometimes in teaching, we are but ripples in a pond. We do not see where our influence goes, but it is there. We cannot do much else except know that something we say, perhaps even offhand, will have a more profound effect on someone else, whether we know it or not.

    If the grief becomes too much, please consider calling the National Suicide Hotline (US): 1-800-273-8255.

    My deepest condolences.

  7. Hugs, EMH. And know that Aunt Virginia received as much from having you in her life as you did from having her in yours. As has been said so well above, you carry her heart, and your heart in turn will be carried by those who follow you.

    Please take care of yourself. Grief is a sneaky thing--don't hesitate to seek help when it becomes too heavy to carry.

  8. EMH--no taking the exam early. Your Aunt Virginia would want you to spread her legacy by giving to those you come in contact with. As Maybelle says, we don't see all our influence--and you may be a lifeline for someone else down the road who is also struggling with grief.

    Words cannot express how sorry I am for the pain that you are dealing with.

  9. I am very sorry to hear about your Aunt Virginia. That's actual, true misery. It may not help you but your post helps me put my own difficulties in perspective.

    I hope you can hang in there. Live long and prosper.

  10. EMH, I am so sorry for your loss. Please take good care of yourself and get help if and when you need it. I lost my mom a year and a half ago and am just coming out of the fog... but there is an other side, I promise.

  11. This is the wrong show, twice removed, but... Don't kill yourself. Go online and watch last night's Rookie Blue (the show is superficial, but everyone is hot) and look at how ridiculous (which my kids tell me is the new phat which was the new bad) William Shatner looks. His cheeks are smoother than the locks of 'flake who "can't afford" your book, what with the cost of blackberry service and Brazilian keratin treatments. The way people age these days, it's no wonder we're still stunned when a 94 year old dies. Hopefully when the shock wears off, the memories will give you more comfort than pain.

  12. Hi, EMH--

    I'm very sorry to hear of your loss (and sorry for not saying so earlier; I've been spending a lot of time on campus, and I don't log in from there; probably overcaution, but I feel better keeping a clear boundary). I second (third, fourth) everything everybody above said, especially the parts about not checking out early; expecting it to hurt but time, eventually, to make it easier; and seeking help if/when needed.

    I had a couple of other thoughts to add to the ones above. First, if I'm dong my math right (you can check), your Aunt Virginia came of age in the middle of the depression, a really brutal time to do that, and one that has some similarities to today. One thing to keep in mind is that, to a considerable extent, people living in the middle of the Great Depression didn't know they were living in the middle of an event we'd eventually be able to name and quantify and identify an end to (they also didn't know about WWII and the Cold War and a few other things to come, which may have been just as well). Many people struggling to make a life and a living in the middle of incredibly difficult circumstances thought the fault was in themselves, or each other, or both. And I expect that, while they were struggling, they watched some people from a generation they admired -- the very last of those who survived the Civil War and/or slavery, perhaps and/or those who spearheaded some of the great reform movements of the second half of the 19th century -- die, and wondered where the world was going. But many came through, and many grew into the sort of strong, principled people you describe your Aunt to have been, perhaps in part because of those experiences.

    Second, you can probably best honor your aunt's memory not by trying to be her, or to emulate all of the values of her generation, but instead being the best version of yourself -- your own talents, your own contribution to the larger civic body -- that you can be. Pace the snowflake problem, each of us really is unique, and we make our best contributions when we offer the best we have to give in and to our own time.

    But first, in this sort of situation, we grieve. And as F&T says, that can be a long (longer than many people these days, with their emphasis on "closure," want it to be) and confusing and unpredictable process. Take care of yourself.


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