Biff America column: Helmets and heaven, leaving a lasting legacy
They are mankind’s great unknowns. What is the meaning of life? The nature of man? And why did Kamikaze pilots wear helmets?
Oh, and also, is there a heaven?
As I age, I’m more interested in the possibility of an afterlife than the Kamikaze’s fashion choices. Certainly it would be a comfort that there will be a divine payback for those who, by an accident of birth, genetics or misfortune, have unduly suffered on earth. But even for us earthly gifted, it would nice to believe that “the road goes on forever and the party never ends.”
Andrew Jackson said, “Heaven will not be heaven for me if I don’t meet my wife there.” Certainly, that was a heartfelt sentiment offered by old Hickory, but I have to say I had hoped my Rapture would come with more free time and less exercise.
Statistics suggest that three of four Americans believe in an afterlife, and though I’m skeptical of their objectivity, I envy them. But what I do know is that all those who have lived and passed leave behind something of themselves, good and bad, on both the people and the planet. Call it a soul, energy or karma.
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In 1984, a handful of good friends stared at each other, in grief and disbelief, across two holes dug in the avalanche debris. Those pits had recently contained the bodies of two friends. The air was thick with a near-impossible heartache for those of us who dug them out, but also, at least in my imaginings, was a mist of the aforementioned souls and energy of our friends Tim and Steve.
I still remember the looks on the faces of friends and family and lovers as we lifted their remains out of the snow. Mixed with the gloom was a sprinkling of fear. If someone so young, healthy and accomplished could die, then were any of us safe?
For many, that was the first experience of losing someone young and close — but not so for me. Since my early teens, various friends had perished from inborn conditions, bad luck or foolishness. When I was younger, I was convinced I would see them again; as I aged, I became less sure.
Eulogies make heroes of us all. Seldom will an obituary read, “Joe Blow died last week. He had the morals of a cockroach and was as attractive as a bucket of nose hairs.” It is natural in our grief to reconstruct the deceased in terms that are bigger than life or truth. This is cathartic; nothing is served with posthumous reality. The true test of a person’s greatness is their legacy. Without falling prey to the temptation of exaggeration, Tim McClure was a remarkable man.
Though the years have lent some perspective to his accomplishments and qualities, by all accounts he was a visionary. He created a recycling program in the mid-’70s, when few in this country knew what the term meant; there is a national award that bears his name. He was both a pacifist and state wrestling champion. Certainly, he was not perfect, but when it came to sustainability, he had a clairvoyant ability to see what the planet’s needs might be in the future. Tim’s future is now.
Last weekend, there was a yearly fundraising banquet held in Breckenridge that benefits Summit County’s recycling program. Though most attending did not know him, the event is named for Tim McClure. Interspersed among the hundreds present, I saw several of those who were there when we found their bodies.
It’s funny, in a community where hundreds come and go yearly, most of those who were there that day in 1985 have made the mountains their home. In my mind’s eye, we all appear much the same as we did that day. That said, I don’t believe for an instant that the afternoon we stared at each other over those holes in the snow hadn’t changed us.
I’m resolved to never be totally sure of the nature of man, meaning of life or, if upon entering paradise, my mate will be waiting with a list of things to do around the house. We enter the world with nothing, and I’ve never seen a hearse pulling a U-Haul. If we are lucky, like my friend Tim, then we might leave behind a legacy of things we’ve done, the community we’ve improved and people we’ve loved.
A lasting impression; like a Kamikaze pilot but with a better landing.
Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of Biff America, can be read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Biff’s book “Mind, Body, Soul,” is available at local shops and bookstores or shop.holpublications.com.
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