The Physical and the Spirit

The red curls of the widow were splayed out over one side of the coffin’s dark wood. Despite the amplified voice of some unseen singer, the widow’s sobs carried clearly across the church. On top of the coffin, a framed photo of a young man, T, 44 years old, his grey, slightly thinning hair combed back slick, a deep, warm smile breaking out through his short beard.

The sobs sounded, oceanic, like the sound of a swell at the mouth of a cavern.

His body was there, a few inches from her curls. It was intact. T had died of a heart attack not even a couple of days ago, and he was probably wearing a nice suit as he lay, indifferent, dead, a corpse, in the padded box. A dead person reminds me of a car without gas. Superficially identical, fundamentally a different proposition.

And yet, I could feel why she laid her head on that box. The physical presence, the person who had, no doubt, laid next to her in bed two nights ago, whose odors and twitches and warmth, physical warmth, 37 degrees Celsius, had been next to her, and had come and gone, and had contained a “soul” and whose soul had loved her, whose mind or heart had chosen her, who may even have needed her, that physical entity was going to leave a hole in her life. A very solid absence. And whatever the priests impersonal droning may have been trying to  suggest to the contrary, she was not going to feel Tom looking down on her and their son.

And whatever that idiot priest says about “a better place” did not provide consolation. Real consolation, maybe, she could have momentarily if she could tear the top off of the goddamned box and hold him, one last time, kiss him, tousle his hair, or do whatever it is that she did to show her physical love for him.

Let’s cut through the bullshit for a moment. We are, underneath it all, animals. Whatever our brains may tell us about better place, looking down on us and so on, we need that physical presence. When my girlfriend took her kids skiing last week, she was in a better place. Megeve, that’s a goddamned nice place-compared to the car-bomb ridden capital of Lebanon. And you know what? I could call her on the phone, or video-phone her. And still, I was not satisfied, I was not happy, I was not comfortable in my skin. I wanted her physically here. And when she is physically here, I don’t need to touch her, I don’t need to talk to her. I can simply sit and read my book while she wanders around doing whatever and I feel peaceful. I feel that the connection I need has been made.

So, S, suffering widow of T, I know why you put your head on that casket and wept. Even I felt like saying goodbye to him one last time, opening the top and maybe giving him a hug. And, even knowing that he is a car out of gas, even knowing that the hug is nothing for him, that last physical contact would have had meaning.


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