This week I received an email from Metro, announcing the end of an era: because of limited time and resources, The Tour of Untimely Departures is now history. Those of you who have read Burying My Dead know that the adventure begins on Halloween night during that unique event. It was one of those quirky things that reinforced my love for my adopted city. I fully understand the decision, just as I understand that Lompoc Brewing had to close our favorite neighborhood hangout, the Hedge House. I accept the concept of population density despite missing the sky and the sun now blocked by four-story buildings on Division St. It is the nature of life. Change is constant. But, emotionally, we all have to process our losses – and move on.
In the broader sense, we are struggling with more significant losses. Empirical truth is taking an extended holiday on the Presidential stage. President Trump has managed to make false or misleading statements or claims well over 3,000 times since taking office. Those of us old enough to remember President Nixon and the Watergate scandal or President Clinton and his dalliance with Monica Lewinsky know that lying is not new to the executive office. But the sheer volume and diversity of Trump’s lies are deeply unsettling, shaking the very pillars of our democratic system.
Truly fake news is not new, either. During his reelection campaign in 1864, President Lincoln had to battle a claim that he was a “mixed-race eugenicist” who believed that intermarriage between whites and blacks would yield a “super race.” Pro-slavery Democrats created an anonymous 72-page pamphlet to ignite the controversy; Ohio congressman Samuel Cox fanned the flames in a speech that was picked up by Democratic newspapers around the country. The story went viral, in today’s nomenclature, with telegraphs spreading news quickly. The hoax almost derailed Lincoln’s reelection. News coverage was starkly partisan and public trust ripped to shreds. Sound familiar?
In our personal lives, loss is constant, too. Our children disappear into adults. We exit the 9 to 5 working world. Eventually, we all deal with aging: graying hair, stiffening bones, cells gone awry, memories that fade, loved ones who leave us too soon. On a global scale, we are watching our planet change before our eyes, our plants wilting prematurely in the superheated days of summer, wheat fields in the Dalles going up in flames, Americans across the country combatting unprecedented flooding, storms, and triple-digit temperatures, car tires turning to liquid rubber on charred roads as frantic Greek villagers run into the sea. It is the stuff of nightmares.
It’s all so sad…and, yet, we must acknowledge the flip side of loss, the positive possibilities of change. On a personal level, Pat and I enjoy hanging out with our adult daughters and their significant others, sharing bits of experiences over a libation. In my retirement, I have revived skills I had to subjugate to job requirements. For each neighbor I tearfully lose, I hope for an interesting new presence. Trump’s extreme rhetoric in the form of tweets and off-the-cuff remarks has forced us out of complacency. Legitimate media outlets are coming out punching. In the midst of global warming, we are more mindful about what we purchase and what we consume, more appreciative of the natural world.
The characters of Burying My Dead are forced to deal with losses of all kinds. But, in the end, the story is intended to be uplifting, focusing more on resiliency, the power of kindness and human connection, the drive to contribute something of value and the desire to savor the beauty of life, whatever its flaws.
Tonight, three months before Halloween, I hope to return to Lone Fir Pioneer Cemetery. In my eyes, it remains a monument not only to departures, untimely or otherwise, but to remembrance, history, and the continuity of life itself. Amidst the headstones, the Portland Actors Ensemble will present Romeo & Juliet. (To see the remainder of their schedule, click here: portlandactors.com.) The show would have delighted Emerson Asher and Zhou Zhen. Who knows? Maybe it will be the beginning of a new tradition.