Life + Culture: Curtains (a book about life)

The peculiar circle of lifeTake a clue from an interesting read called “Curtains.” Why leave your life up to chance?  Choreograph it, script it…like the film you always thought you were starring in anyway.  Lives just don’t happen! They are projects.  This is what gives them meaning. You are responsible for the contents. You must fill up your dash. The dash being the short time in between the day you were born until the very end (1989  ????) And there are books to help you do it.  Books like 1,000 things to do before you die.  Which in reality only makes you feel like you haven’t accomplished anything. Although it’s a start for those who don’t know where to begin.  It’s all about living with purpose.  It’s important to live each day as if it’s your last because one day you will be right.

A friend of mine lent me a book to read entitled “Curtains”.  A book that I have to preface by saying I would never have chosen to read if I knew what it was about.  Because it has a lot to do with death and I didn’t want to go there. So this is somewhat of a book review and an overview of the meaning of life taken from what I read and my thoughts.

Why this book?

As it so happens the person who lent it to me used to be a professional curtain maker.  He made beautiful curtains for a living and so the title jumped out at him at the library.  I know; who goes to libraries anymore? Anyway it makes sense; he thought it was about curtains and was curious.

At the time he lent it to me I was just starting a book called Tango, a Love Story that another friend gave me because she knows that I love tango, the dance.  A light feel-good true story that was very timely. Let me tell you; Curtains is the furthest away from tango…maybe closer to Last Tango (in Paris or elsewhere).  But it is about the dance of life.

My friend assured me that he had not intended to read Curtains when he figured out what it was about but once he started he could not put it down and everyone he lent it to… same story.  I was intrigued and said I’d give it a go.  At least one chapter. So I put my beautiful tango book on hold to read a book about life coming around full circle to ultimately…death.  In a nutshell I found it morbidly fascinating, well written, extremely tongue in cheek, lots of wit but not without the gorey details.

Curtains was written by Tom Jokinen, a veteran radio producer (Morningside, Definitely Not the Opera + more) and a video-journalist at the CBC. He set his career aside in 2006 to be an apprentice undertaker at a small third generation family-run funeral home and crematorium in Winnipeg, Manitoba.  This drastic vocational change at the age of 44 resulted with him writing this book.  Why? Mostly he did it because he wanted to find out first-hand what goes in that gap between death and burial at a time when our relationship with the dead is radically changing.  What he found is from the mundane to the macabre, to the completely comic to the totally heartfelt. It delves into religion, different beliefs, customs and beyond.  It is a fascinating read. It’s about humanity and an exploration of our culture’s relationship with the dead, dying and those left behind. It prompts a question: Why do we each spend up to $10,000 – for most, the third-biggest cash outlay in our lives after a house and a car, according to Jessica Mitford, who wrote The American Way of Death – on funerals?

It may have been the prelude to the widely popular Netflix series 6 ft. under (which I hear was really well done but have never watched). What it basically comes down to is we don’t want to know; we do want to know; we’re confused; we’re better off not knowing, but we’re curious, sorry to know; not sorry; a little sorry! I’m not sure but I read the whole book anyway.  Too late! But it’s something we will all ultimately be dealing with whether we like it or not. From the book:

A modern take is that a man is now defined not by his faith but by his hobbies and quirks. Did he golf?  Was she an avid gardener?  Everyone is an avid something: an avid bowler, drinker, sailor or snake charmer.  Avidity is the key to unlocking your story.

Having faith doesn’t mean you have to be religious but religious faith, when it comes to death, is a fairy tale that soothes.  It doesn’t deny there’s a monster in the closet or a wolf in the woods but it tames them.  A study at Yale, published in the International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine, found that “bereaved individuals who relied on religion to cope generally used outpatient services less frequently compared to non-believers.

Epicurus said that there’s no need to fear the oblivion after we’re gone if we never cared about the oblivion that came before we were born.

“Curtains is deft, funny, surprising and above all thought-provoking.  Benjamin Franklin said that to know a society you only had to visit its cemeteries.  Jokinen has taken him up on that, and added in our funeral parlours and crematoria.  What emerges is a sharply focused picture of twenty-first-century North America – we’re uncertain about our values, distracted by inessentials but yearning, like every culture, to understand the meaning of death and the dead body, which is just another way of understanding life and humanity.” – Katherine Ashenburg, author of The Mourner’s Dance.

Food for Thought

Would this book pique your interest?

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