Let’s talk about death.
[A chapter from Be a Hobbit, Save the Earth]
Though none of us like to think about our own mortality, or that of our friends and family members, preparing for the inevitable is something we all should do at some point in our lives. If you’re not to that point then come back to this article later. If, however, you have begun to consider planning for the future, hopefully distant future, then read on.
In Middle Earth, all races were susceptible to death. While the Elves were immortal in the sense that they could not die of disease or old age, they could in some circumstances, die. They could be killed in battle or suffer accidental death. When they died their souls were swept off to the Halls of Mandos in Valinor over the Western Sea.
All the other races were mortal. The fate of the souls of Humans, Hobbits, and Dwarves was unknown to all in Middle Earth, even the Elves. The Elves who lived outside of Valinor considered the fate of mortals to be a blessing, as they considered their own immortality to be a curse. The death of the things around them brought with it a mounting weariness, which could turn to sorrow and grief. Some Elves succumbed to this and died themselves. Most Elves who were still living in Middle Earth chose to sail into the West to be with the Valar and their fallen kindred.
You will remember my discussion of Boromir’s funeral in an earlier article, where I described in great detail his journey to the sea and what would become of his remains and that of his vessel.
A Western funeral today, while certainly ritualistic, containing most if not all of the aspects of Boromir’s funeral send off, is more different than similar. Instead of returning the body of our loved one to the Earth, we embalm them with chemicals, hermetically seal them in an expensive coffin made of numerous materials that are now wasted forever—probably including many plastics—place that inside a concrete sarcophagus and then cover them with dirt, usually reciting from the Bible, “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” which when you think of it, is completely absurd.
They are not ashes, nor will they ever be, nor will they completely turn to dust. We have preserved them with modern chemistry, as if that will give them some special place in the afterlife. This is ridiculous. Why do we do it this way? Is the process driven by modern science and chemistry, “Hey people! Your loved one will get to Heaven or Nirvana or Paradise in much better condition if you pump them full of man-made juice and send them off in a plastic box! Only $5,995!”
Did modern chemists take an intro course to Ancient Egyptian History and think, “Cha Ching! Now there’s a way to make some dough!”?
Surely there must be better ways to do it. I have been of the mind that I should be cremated and placed in a small wooden boat, much like ole Boromir, then pushed off into a lake doused in bourbon so that one of my friends—who hopefully isn’t too drunk to pull it off, [this means you, Keith]—can shoot a flaming arrow into the boat, sending me up in smoke, returning me to the Ether and to Mother Nature.
Problem is, they usually burn you in a coffin and expend vast amounts of fossil fuels to accomplish it, so I’m not sure it’s really any greener than the coffin option. Maybe there are better ways to do it out there. Certainly there are people in other countries around the world practicing a more sustainable way.
Plant a Mallorn Seed: BE the Party Tree!
A while back, a fellow Hobbit posted a link to a company called Bios Urn that makes biodegradable urns. The urn itself is made of all biodegradable ingredients. The ashes of the deceased are placed in the bottom part which is separated from a top section where you place local dirt, compost, etc., and a tree seed! The seed will germinate fairly quickly, and over time the urn will disintegrate as the roots of the new tree absorb the nutrients from the ashes! So life springs from death and your loved one becomes a tree!
As a tree, they will give life in the form of oxygen to all the Earth while standing as a living memorial to their spirit. I think this is the most Hobbity idea I’ve ever seen. Like Samwise, who planted Galadriel’s Mallorn seed, they, or we can become a Party Tree where our friends and family can gather for decades to remember them, or us, and to celebrate important life events.
We can name the tree after them, even place a permanent marker next to it! Instead of being hermetically sealed in an overpriced box pumped full of poisonous chemicals and buried in some cemetery—which takes up a ridiculous amount of land—and being left there, where most of us forget to visit, let’s plant our loved ones in our yards! Then we can visit with them every day, sit under their cooling shade, watch them grow, shed leaves every fall, and return every spring. Plant flowers around the tree, perennials that will come back every year.
Your Party Tree can be the gathering place for all kinds of family rituals and celebrations: weddings, birthdays, baptisms, coming-of-age parties, graduations, and even funerals, where another tree could be planted near by.
And some day in the future, if we raise our children as good little Hobbits, they will take a seed from that tree and plant another one, or the seeds will just fall to the ground and a forest will spring up! I can think of nothing lovelier than that. Then, instead of hewers of trees, we will all become trees. We will have evolved from Homo Hobbitla to Homo Entlus: Hobbit, to Ent!
[This article is dedicated to my cousin, Tim Lowder, who died on December 21, 2015, from liver cancer. You will live long in the memories of those who knew you. And to his mother, my Aunt Nettie Jo, who passed away on March, 30, 2016, also from cancer. Love to you, and to all my relations.]