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To Giggle At A Funeral
'what a joy it is to have shared time, not master it'
Last week I spoke with agroecologist Nikki Yoxall about our connection to nature, to decay, to death; patriarchal systems of exploitation and ideological constraints of discourse; pastures, grazing, land systems, calves and crop cycles. It was a stunningly beautiful conversation weaving in all that is sweet and dangerous about human nature to reveal the world as it is and as it could be.
As so often happens during a Planet: Critical episode, the conversation ventured into territories I would never have hoped to imagine. Nikki and I shared stories about the funerals we attended as young girls—her father, my grandfather—and she, with great tenderness, revealed that during her father’s funeral at the age of 12 she saw the vicar reclining in his seat, looking terribly serious and thoughtful, and burst out laughing. She caught a fit of the giggles during one of the readings. When her mother looked at her, she pointed at the vicar to explain. Beautifully, her mother then burst out laughing with her.
Even in moments of great sadness we can find such joy in one another, such joy in being here, together. Once we peel back the layers of “shouldness” in our culture which fix behaviours onto genders, age and culture, we can begin to glimpse at the great diversity of our species, the wonder of each individual, the generosity of our relationships. Underneath the signs of mourning—black attire, straight faces, hushed voices—are people who hold laughter in their hearts enough to giggle in the silence, and join the giggle of their child. I found Nikki’s story deeply moving, humming with love. Even in the face of death, why should we not giggle together?
We designate and abide by appropriateness in order to communicate and feel safe in a melting pot of strangers; culture becomes a signpost of similarity in order to show, as quickly as possible, we are one, I am not a threat. How else could we navigate the thousands of unknown faces we see in a day in a city? How else could we exchange with strangers simply by handing over money? We find commonality in culture in order to soothe a sense of danger; rituals provide a sense of knownness and belonging. Yet, when all that is accepted is that which is deigned appropriate, and when that appropriateness must be fashioned in order to be assimilated by a huge number, diversity fades into black attire and hushed voices. A giggle rejoices in the dark. Yet, how many mothers would have hushed their child?
The process of a Western funeral reveals so much about our fear of decay, as if death itself is contagious: our loved one becomes “the body”, it is sent away to be processed by a professional, to be cleaned, decay delayed through the process of embalming. Whilst a stranger puts makeup on the face of our loved one, the family rushes through the admin of the process: gravestones, cemetery rites, invitations, a hotel room booked for a tepid lunch. Lips pinched, brows furrowed, cheeks sallow—our mourning betrays an indictment; the audacity of death to take from us, to reveal the finitude of flesh in a concrete, steel and plastic world. So often, we hear stories of that which was left unsaid too late; scars opened up by the void. It makes me wonder whether we truly, on some level, expect to live forever, that we will master time. Grief swallows the future rather than rejoicing the past. Yet, what a joy it is to have shared time, not master it.
We are an odd, precious, bizarre species. We both deny death and suppress life. We deny fear and suppress joy. We deny dependence and suppress needs. Interestingly, this brings us full circle to Nikki’s proposition of agroecology: ecosystems need animals, we need animals, just as we need each other. There are myriad ways of celebrating life, relishing in our connectivity, in the land, and being grateful for how we all sustain and steward each other. Imagine that world, one in which we sustain and steward one another, and everything with which we share time and space. Imagine a world where we giggle at funerals because life goes on as we do and death is the gift that allows for life to begin anew.
© Rachel Donald
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