Allegorical Nonsense

An allegory. Nonsense. Put them together. Okay, not really.

Saturday, February 17, 2007


The great weakness of English as a Subject-Verb-Object language only really becomes apparent when it forces you to hang a name in the air for the eternity it takes to get out "died". No object can follow, of course, and it is lucky that this is so, because the difficulty in forming the name, with its potential to be followed by an infinite number of verbs, knowing that the one to come is the ultimate intransitive, is only exceeded by the impossibility of getting out anything further.

I wrote the above to myself on the back of a Service Agreement while I was waiting for the family of the deceased to arrive at a recent funeral. While the body was being placed in the ground, I was mentally describing the light-brown colouration of the fringes of the tallit which had been unwrapped from the body of the dead boy, brought out from the grave by the man whose job it is to jump into graves with dead bodies and make sure they lie properly, and laid on the stretcher which just a few minutes beforehand had been followed by all of the mourners to that place, and which was now lying just near my foot.

I had left it until now.

I have a funny relationship with death. I relate to the dead person, thinking that maybe that's me and my living is the illusion. I relate to the family, to their genuineness, and try to let them know that no matter how unconventional they think their feelings are, it's okay to feel it while I'm there. Having some brief experience in the world of mourning from the inside, I think it's very common that the mourners themselves feel pressure to feel in a certain way, to act in a certain way. In most cases, if you ask the mourners, they will probably say that it's like any occasion where they are hosting guests - they will act in a certain way and try to control the behaviour of those around them so that their guests feel comfortable. Davka I think that death is the one occasion where we should be released from these bonds of politeness, and allowed to feel whatever the hell we want.

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At 4:08 PM, Anonymous Simon Holloway said...

This is a powerful post. Did you know the deceased? Your reference to holding a service agreement made me think that this might be a work-related attendance rather than a personal visit...

I quite like your reference to "die" as the ultimate intransitive! I also quite like your reflections in general on the atmosphere of funerals. I have been to very few but I feel that I understand where you're coming from nonetheless. Rivers of ink have been spilled in explaining graveside customs in all manner of different cultures; it is fascinating to remark on the differences between different forms of expression in relation to this one powerful phenomenon.

I have to ask: was the reference to a stretcher a reference to a hospital stretcher? This wasn't after a piguah was it?

At 11:39 PM, Blogger Daniel said...

The deceased was someone I did not know well - the son of good friends of my parents when they lived in Israel. Indeed I had come from work as it was an unexpected funeral, and my Service Agreement was the only piece of paper available for writing on.

The stretcher is an Israeli phenomenon - as there is no coffin, the stretcher, replete with six ergonomic hand-grips, is the means of transport of the body. In fact, after a piguah is pretty much the only time there wouldn't be a stretcher, as in those cases a coffin is mostly used to protect the sensitivities of the mourners and guests.


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