3 February 2017

The memory trees

We have lost some of my co-workers to death in recent years.  Not work related, mind, just simple, natural death.

In days long past, we would have scripts to follow, rituals, ways to mourn, or not, and to remember our lost colleagues.  These scripts and rituals were the way we articulated our loss: we knew what was expected of us, and we carried it out.

But, we have been told, repeatedly, the old rituals are meaningless ceremonies, unfit for our new age.  We must create new rituals for our new era.  At work, we plant trees in memory of the dead. While not a bad thing, in and of itself, I confess I find it rather odd, especially the way it gets carried out at work.

One of the few workers for whom I felt some fondness died some time ago.  A little after that, we gathered to plant a tree and to remember our friend at a certain spot on the university campus.  We were met by the fellow in charge of such things.  Unlike us, he never knew our friend and co-worker, so he was only there to plant a tree.  It might not have mattered.  Planting trees was the only thing he cared about.

So this fellow took over- I believe the word 'hijacked' would not be inappropriate here- and started telling us all about this tree.  Its species, its preferred climate, where it fits into the plan to plant trees around the campus, etc etc.  Then, after we had put it into the ground and placed dirt around the root ball, he asked us to join in a final ritual he likes to do at such times.  We were to extend our hands and were to chant or cheer on the tree, and encourage it to grow.  He lead the chant, and a few joined in like cheerleaders, but many of us were looking at each other, our eyebrows raised, and our facial expressions clearly saying: "Seriously?"  The chant done, our 'ceremony', such as it was, concluded and we returned to work.

I don't really argue with those who find the old rituals currently meaningless, but I am at a loss to explain how this was meaningful.  If what we were doing was supposed to help us express our loss and remember our friend, it was a failure. 

Some time later, a grounds crew placed a rock near the base of the tree.  On the rock they had epoxy glued a small plaque that read "This tree was planted in memory of..."  If I die and they decide to plant a tree for me, I want my plaque to read along the lines of the Roger Bucklesby memorial: "This tree was planted in memory of Bear, who hated this university and everyone in it."

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