“Mommy, when people die, they get buried.”
“Yes, Duncan, that’s true.”
“People bury them.”
“They are the buriers.”
“But… when the buriers die, who buries them?”
“But… who buries those buriers when they die? Animals?”
“Oh, Duncan, there are always new people coming along.”
We both fall into silence. Maybe it is because I have spent too much time contemplating life and death recently and now I am beginning to become desensitized, or maybe it is because the goodness of the moment, side-by-side on a sunshiny bench with my redheaded “middlest” child, is too undeniable to discount, but for whatever reason, I find myself surprisingly peaceful and dry-eyed. Duncan lays his warm head in my lap and I envision the whole vast interwoven fabric of life, individuals mushrooming briefly before settling back into the everlasting mycelium— human beings, oak trees, blue whales, tortoises, humming birds and honeybees: all of us enmeshed, blessed, and doomed—and while death as a concept may never cease to be personally intolerable, at least in the abstract it can be acceptable, beautiful even—a symphony, notes rising and falling in concord for millennia.
But this is all very heavy and cerebral for the 4-year-old at my side. In the past two and a half years he has lost three great-grandparents, two dogs, and now his uncle.
“How you doing, Duncan?”
“I mean, you’re very quiet. What are you thinking?”
“Oh… I was just wondering about the new people.”
“Yeah. Like, where do they come from? And… what do their space ships look like?”