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A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Founder & General Editor
Volume 9, Number 4, December 2015

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Ray Rasmussen
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada


Avoiding Going Away

Against other things, it is possible to obtain security, but when it comes to death, we human beings all live in an unwalled city.

                        —Epicurus

I’ve just read that the World Health Organization has added processed meat to its list of cancer causing agents which includes smoking, eating salted fish, breathing polluted air and being exposed to the sun. But does this mean that I should avoid eating bacon, sausage or various cold cuts? According to a NY Times article, if I don’t over consume, the odds of doing my carnivore self in are very low. Whereas, in the case of cigarettes, the odds are very high even with moderate use. Fortunately, after brief spells at being a fag-smoking, bad boy in high school and a pipe-smoking student at university, I never acquired the habit. Also fortunate, despite having a father of Scandinavian lineage, I’ve never developed a taste for salted fish.

But I do seem to be avoiding reading Ken Jones’ posthumous book, Gone Away, even though the odds are that reading it will not move me ahead in the queue. Just reading Glenn Coat’s comments on one of Jones’ haibun and George Marsh’s touching memoir-review in this issue has brought tears to my eyes, not so much from self-pity or a sense of relief (there but for the grace of a cosmic coin toss, go I), but from the expressive pathos and humor contained in the few poet’s words that managed to slip into my unguarded mind via Coats and Marsh.

My feeling is there's no use rushing things. It's difficult enough being long in tooth with the idea of death making uninvited brief visits on a daily basis, even when for most of each day (and night) I'm managing to remain immortal. Then again, as friends encounter physical infirmities and some even fall, alas! I dwell a bit more on the death-any-minute side of the psychological pendulum.

“Avoidance isn’t the answer,” a buddhist-like voice in my mind claims. “Embracing and accepting is the path toward inner peace, toward departing with a smile." A Tibetan practice suggests that, “A simulation or rehearsal of the actual death process, which familiarizes us with death and takes away the fear of the unknown, allows us to die skilfully.”

Invite my friends to my mock funeral? They’ll read a couple of my haibun, make up some nice things to say about me (since I’ll be listening from the coffin), get roaring drunk and sing “That Old Rugged Cross.” I could even hum along.

No, not for me! I suspect I won’t die either skillfully or happily or with a smile and I certainly won’t be singing my way out.

Enough! It’s a sunny day. While the maples in the mixed hardwood forest outside my window have lost their leaves (thus reminding me of my long lost hair), the beech trees have kept theirs, creating brilliant splashes of yellow-green, amber and rust. Yes, beauty can still take my breath away (but not so as to kill me). Today there’s wood to harvest, not for this or next winter, but for winter 2017. See how well I manage avoidance!

the chainsaw’s howl—
selecting the next tree
to fall

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