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I wrote my first novel, Smudge's Mark, in a closet. No joke.
Friday, February 13, 2009

"Death and all his friends"

Have you heard about the mummies they've just recently unearthed in Egypt? How cool would that be - to be part of an expedition that uncovers secrets of ancient people and their customs and rituals? I'm fascinated by the peculiar ways people throughout millennia have lived their lives and, notably, the ways they've revered and respected death.

When I was in Austria during the summer of 2008, we came across a town called Hallstatt. Within that small, quiet town on a lake there is a crypt full of skulls and bones of the people who had made that town their home. The custom of these people was to bury their dead in shallow graves and then dig them up some 10 years later, after the natural process of decay did most of the dirty work. Family members would then clean and bleach the bones and, as the picture above shows, they would decorate the skull with symbols that represented that person and they would include the date of the person's death. Then, the skulls were displayed, and the large limb bones were stored, in the crypt. Fascinating! But the reason they did this wasn't even some religious, ritualistic reason. It was purely practical - they simply didn't have the physical land-space it took to keep people buried.

This morning, while I browsed the pictures of the Egyptian mummy discoveries, I couldn't help but wish I was in that tomb with them. Not as a mummy, of course, as an archaeologist. How thrilling to uncover hidden secrets of humanity's intriguing history that have been buried since 2,800 B.C. I try to imagine who these people were, what life was like for them, who took the time to bury them with such honor, what the purpose behind the burial ceremony was, and how these people aimed to send their loved ones off into the afterlife well prepared.

That's one of the ways humans are different from the rest of Creation: Humans live knowing there's some kind of a purpose to life. Or, at least hoping there is. It's evident throughout all of history in the way people respect those who've passed on. Every culture has its own unique way of paying tribute, which says: Each life stands for something. Each life is unique. All of life is sacred; both in the here and now and - if you're of this belief as I am - the ever-after.

So we should make it count. Before they lower the lid.