Visitations

Morning arrived clear and delightfully cool. I took an early stroll about the center of town before checking out and loading my things in to the car, and then I set off for Sarah’s home to pick up Edna. I was not particularly eager to make the visit to the cemetery, but it seemed a small courtesy to these people who had been so willing to accept me- call it recompense for my necessary deceptions.

I have never made a habit of visiting my dead; it always seems so pointless. Even my visit to Jeremy’s grave, so stylized and staged and Hollywood-dramatic was really nothing more than a lark. I was content that I had done it, but I believe I could have found as much closure reminiscing in my own living room with a bottle of brandy to mellow the mood. That I had been drawn back to this place so soon afterward was nothing more than the natural consequence of finally putting that entire episode of my life to rest.

Jeremy is dead. Catherine is dead. I could fill many, many pages with the names of those who meant something to me in some way who were now dead. To visit their graves would mean nothing to me. I understand that graves have meaning to those who are left behind, but I believe I have spent so long watching as one generation after another are returned to dust that any possible meaning has been diluted beyond detection. Cemeteries are packed with the dead and empty past. I choose not to dwell there.

Edna was already up and waiting for me when I arrived. Sarah had departed early so it was just the two of us sharing coffee and light conversation as we waited for the day to warm a bit before setting out. Edna seemed in very good spirits, commenting that she had felt guilty for neglecting her duty to visit her relatives, in particular her husband, over the past years.

“Henry’s been gone over thirty years now, so I suppose he forgives me, but I’m glad you were willing to come. I think Catherine would have been pleased to see that somebody from Elaine’s family had finally found this place.”

We were in the car and I smiled at Edna’s prattling. It is a common delusion of the living that the dead are witness to the day, but Edna seemed to take particular delight in the idea of me standing over Catherine’s grave. I felt better then- I have nothing against making a kindly old woman just a bit happier. We turned in to the gate of the cemetery and she directed me up towards the back, where the older plots were laid out over and about a low hill.

We parked at the foot of the hill and I helped her out of the car, then we began walking up towards the McAllister family’s section near the crest of the hill. As we passed various other collections of stones Edna pointed out families and individuals. I had known several of them personally.

“Surely your husband is not buried here?” I asked, “These are all quite old.”

“Oh, no- Henry’s down by the western lawn. I thought we’d stop up here first. See that tall spire? That’s where Catherine and Jonathan are buried. Why don’t you go on ahead- I’ll catch up.”

This was all so odd, and I found myself just a little more curious than I would have admitted earlier. Edna had stopped to admire the carvings on a stone near the walkway so I strolled up the remainder of the path, and found that brief segment of my past laid out in neat rows.

Catherine and her husband were together. Off to one side were two small markers: young children, neither more than four years old. There were other pairs, more husbands and wives, and solitary markers of those who never wed, or who met untimely ends only to have their loved ones make new lives when they were gone. I knew some of their stories from Catherine’s letters; others were a mystery to me.

I heard Edna come up behind me. We both stood quietly and I began to remember times when such places had held meaning for me: never the same meaning they held for others, but meaning nonetheless. Then she spoke, and everything became deathly quiet.

“I know who you are.”

One Response to “Visitations”

  1. The following comments are as they first appeared on the old BlogSpot/Haloscan system. –ZM

    She knew all along…the question is, where do you go from here?
    Joe Bowers | Email | Homepage | 11.21.03 – 6:05 am | #

    It was ever thus. There is nothing secret in this world, but that someone outside our trust has knowledge of it. I suppose the only real secrets are who knows our secrets.

    E.
    Mr. E. | Email | Homepage | 11.21.03 – 10:19 am | #

    Three can keep a secret… if two are dead.

    Ten years ago, the greatest mind ever assembled was centered on the NYSE. There’s some pretty solid information that it conducted the Challenger investigation in under 3 hours.

    We’re now building an even more capable mind. I find it interesting that MD has chosen to make herself part of it, particularly in light of her desire for privacy.

    I hope our answer is worth it.
    Dishman | Email | Homepage | 11.21.03 – 6:49 pm | #

    Interesting and intriguing comment, Mr. Dishman. As I have a particular fascination with gifted minds, I find this idea tittilating, to say the least. Unfortunately, since I don’t know the question to which this anticipated answer will belong, I am either outside of the cogniscenti, or worse, I am too obtuse to realize the question is being asked. It is, of course, none of my affair if this is the case, but you have opened the topic.

    If the target of this assembly of mental firepower is longevity, though, or even physical immortality, I fail to see the import. MD has mentioned, and I would concur, that immortality is rather counterproductive to society. It would, of course, alleviate the suffering of our friend, as she could finally find some measure of peace and companionship. But the needs of humanity would not be served by such a pursuit.
    Mr. E. | Email | Homepage | 11.22.03 – 1:48 am | #

    The intelligence I speak of is currently centered on the blogosphere. I’m not suggesting it will ever achieve self-awareness or sentience, but it does seem to be sapient.

    As for the question, I’m not sure even MD knows it. I’m also not sure that anyone knowing it is relevant. In fact, my experience as an engineer says that knowing the question is the hardest part. Once the question has been properly framed, the answer will often be obvious.
    Dishman | Email | Homepage | 11.22.03 – 5:56 pm | #

    … and in writing that, my subconscious kicked up (to speed) so hard that my roommate got a headache.

    Maybe, just maybe, it will find the answer to my (unasked) question as well.
    Dishman | Email | Homepage | 11.22.03 – 6:03 pm | #

    A collective conscious, to match our collective unconscious, Mr. Dishman? That is an enthralling concept, and my lack of awareness of it would surely be an indication of my relatively recent acquaintance with the blogosphere. I confess to having been myopic, and, thus enlightened, will observe matters with a new perspective.

    I find the concept of a collective mind both exciting and disturbing. I stand awestruck at the possibilities for human advancement, and yet something on a more visceral level would stand in abject defiance of the very notion that I could be part of a collective. It defies logic to think that humans could be wired to be nonconformist, as we have proven over the centuries that we work much better in packs, but it would be equally ilogical to deny that I do have such rebellious feelings.

    Interesting. I hope your roomate recovers.

    E.
    Mr. E. | Email | Homepage | 11.23.03 – 7:06 am | #

    Dipping briefly into information theory:
    The greater the independence between the ‘bits’, the more information contained.

    I had the pleasure of taking a class on information theory with Dr. David Huffman. As an example of the information content of english, he chose a passage containing 300-350 letters. He asked us to guess the letters in order, starting with the first. It took four guesses to get ‘F’, two guesses to get ‘o’, and one guess to get ‘u’. The next guess was “The Gettysburg Address”, which was correct. Clearly, Dr. Huffman’s selection as ‘predictable’, which in information theory means it had a low independence.

    I see the blogosphere as more of an aggregate mind than a collective mind. ‘Collective’ carries implications of coercion towards uniformity. Aggregation, on the other hand, seems to imply preservation of most of the independence of the ‘bits’.

    The information processing power available is a direct (though not linear) function of the aggregate information content.
    Dishman | Email | Homepage | 11.23.03 – 5:08 pm | #

    I see your point now, and I thank you for taking the time to enlighten me on this theory.

    Does this imply that the formation of an intellect is the result of a quandry, rather than the discovery of the quandry being the result of the new, and presumably more aware, intellect. I know, it is a “chicken and egg” question, to some extent, but it also speaks to the fundamental concept of intelligence, awareness, and also hits philosophy on many levels. Philosophical Idealism would indicate the later, in that nothing exists outside the awareness, and therefore a problem that one is unaware of is a problem that doesn’t really exist. Causality might argue either one, though.

    Not as fascinating as were we are going, but looking out the back window on the journey does have some value.
    Mr. E. | Email | Homepage | 11.24.03 – 1:20 am | #

    In this case, I believe it’s reasonable to say that the mind exists independently of any particular problems. As evidence of this, I offer the vast amounts of the mind devoted to the contemplation of cats. It did, however, experience significant growth after 9/11.
    Dishman | Email | Homepage | 11.24.03 – 1:45 am | #

    As I begin looking aroung the mind, I am noticing that it is in need of serious therapy. It seems to be in a constant state of warfare with itself, often in language I wouldn’t consider suitable in mixed company. Then, too, there is the example of Alice, who leaves rather harsh comments to the entries to either side of this one. Were we to compare the blogosphere to a physical neighborhood, rather than a mind, I would say it is poor form indeed to come to someone’s house and shout invectives without leaving a forwarding address.

    But I digress.

    A mind that questions and is devided on topics is not necessarily unhealthy, but a mind that berates itself over insignificant trivia may be so lacking in structure that it eventually will colapse upon itself. I would be interested to know if you agree with my estimation that the mind needs therapy, which would be a form of guidance, or if it will, left to its own devices, mature to the point that it is able to police itself into a more focused state.
    Mr. E. | Email | Homepage | 11.24.03 – 9:50 am | #

    After much contemplation…
    I am inclined to say that the current level of self-policing is about right. If anything, I would like to see more cross-pollenation as it were. That is to say, people who agree with one camp on some issues and opposing camps on others. I think that will come with time.

    I offer as evidence the structure of the human brain. It has ridges and folds. The folds serve as barriers to communication. That is actually useful to brain function.
    Dishman | Email | Homepage | 11.24.03 – 5:32 pm | #

    I believe the present mechanisms are sufficient.

    For the most part, the vitriol is limited to the political discussions. Places like here and corante.com (technical/pharmaceutical) don’t seem to have too much of a problem with it.

    Vitriol and invective seem mostly to disrupt the discussion (epilepsy?). It seems to cut both ways. For example, Kevin Drum (CalPundit) often writes excellent, well considered pieces, but his comments section is so filled with venom that it’s difficult to glean useful nuggets. Kevin does little to restrain them. Furthermore, his commenters are acquiring a reputation for their words. The combined result is that they largely take themselves out of the discussion.

    Additionally, the blogosphere has received a massive influx of “new blood” as it formed out of previous incarnations over the last couple years. Most of the “old guard” has already learned that you don’t convert people to your way of thinking by hurling invectives. The balance will shift.

    Finally, I’ve given a great deal of thought to what additional policing would be trustworthy and useful. The answer is that, while I can think of mechanisms that would accelerate the thought process, I don’t think it is appropriate. Individual blogs can police themselves in any way they deem appropriate, but beyond that, no.
    Dishman | Email | Homepage | 11.25.03 – 6:11 am | #

    I grant readily that a brain that was smooth like a marble would be in deep trouble, as the crosstalk from one synapse to another, supposedly unrelated, would interfere with proper function. Additionally, the convulutions serve to increase surface area, which I would think to be beneficial, although I am no student of neurolocical sciences, or even phrenology. }8-)

    But the concern that I have for the mind in question is not so much in the disagreement, but in the manner of expression. I grant that I may be obsessing over the mouse under the Queen’s throne, but it seems that, for this mind to function rationally, we would have to reach a point in blogging society wherein we approach disagreements on more civil terms.

    The reason that some people found “Me, Myself, and Irene” funny (although I haven’t seen the film myself) is that a healthy mind in disagreement with itself does not behave in a hostile manner toward itself. If ambivalence in a human mind leads to self-hostility, the human will either destroy itself, or outside agents will take action to remedy the issue and lead the mind to rationality.

    Is a movement toward civility part of the development of this mind? If so, who will guide this movement? If we expect it do do so on its own, doesn’t that stand in defiance of the concept of entropy? I would clarify here that I don’t disagree with the basic premise, but the mind that I see forming is not one to which I would trust an issue of a complexity that would require such a mind. I am still new to all this, though, and may be forming opinions prematurely.

    Also, I enthusiastically agree with the cross-pollenation statement you made. This is a concept I would encourage in socio-political environs outside of the internet as well.
    Mr. E. | Email | Homepage | 11.25.03 – 4:31 am | #

    Well said, Mr. Dishman.
    Mr. E. | Email | Homepage | 11.25.03 – 11:33 am | #