Thursday, November 11, 2010

Life and Death in Georgia

The procession came from the left, up the incline to the paved road from a cluster of tumbled-together village homes. Nic was up front of the car, bargaining for strings of garlic and onions with several elderly villagers at a makeshift stand, when it appeared.

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As we watch from the car, six men and boys in plaid shirts, carrying an open pine box on their shoulders led the way. Just as they met the paved road, the front man on the near side slipped in the loose dirt, momentarily unbalancing the open casket on their shoulders. The casket lurched, giving us a sideways impression of an elderly face in repose, looking decidedly green-black. He recovered and the procession moved on, across the road and down the far side. It was followed by a straggling procession of women, girls a few men and young children in black, carrying all manner of colorful umbrellas against the afternoon heat. No one looked especially sad.

“Now there's something you don't see every day,” I remarked.

“No,” agreed Sora and was silent a moment. “And not only do they don't embalm here, they still lay the deceased out at home," she added. "Then they summon the family and friends to morn. It can take a week or two for everyone to arrive before they hold the funeral.”

We considered the weight of that information in silence. The heat of the August day there in the car is stifling. It's August. I try not to imagine the smell.

Nic returned from his successful produce negotiations at the village stand.“She was ninety two,” he announced, cheerfully, as our driver pulls out and proceeds slowly down the road and past the casket, being loaded into an ancient hearse. “She was the village matriarch. They said she had a good, long life.”

I set to imagining a matriarch who drank some good Georgian wine every day of her long, adult life, who will return to the earth to nurture her grape vines. While the aesthetics of American life don't encourage most of us to think about death in this fashion, it may be good to recall that dealing with death in this way is quite ecological. Quite green, in fact (no pun intended). In the United states, a slowly growing trend toward green funerals is making a comeback, as a biodegradable reaction to the environmental impact of embalming chemicals, as well as a return to the natural cycle of life.

I'm not sure it will really catch on here. But such is life, and death, in Georgia.

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