Athena's Web Weekly Column

Week of March 26th - April 1st, 2010

O Captain! My Captain!

Columns Archive

  In the days after a passing, the soul usually lingers on, looking back upon reflections left behind, pondering decisions both made and unmade; of paths taken and not taken. There are those, it is true, that once released from the mortal shell fly limitless and free, euphoric to have slipped the surly bonds of gravity. But there are those, too, who continue on after death as they did in life, with the same personality, characteristics and concerns, the same reflections and memories they had while here.

Soul's flight

The Soul's flight

  This is the report I get from Dad; he's still worried and concerned about his four boys and their futures. It makes sense to me, as that's what he did while here. Why shouldn't he be doing what he's always done? Apparently his paternal grandfather, CJC (Charles Joseph Cerow) is with him and Dad knows it, but right now he's paying more attention to his reflections than his support. CJC's patient though.

  He's got time.

  Souls of the deceased often continue to hang around their body, watching over events as they transpire. It's what they know. It feels like home and has been for a long time. While working on the book recently, I ran across passages stating that Geb, the Egyptian Earth God, was the realm where the souls of the lost continued to linger, preferring the wispy memories of materialism to the more spiritual path of moving on. To hold on for a while is normal, it's part of the transition process; but some hold on longer than others.

  While the soul is still close, they listen in to the what is being said and watch to see what we do. They enjoy being read to, and this helps ease some of the transition, both on their side of the veil and ours. Like reading to children, it helps calm and soothe. It forms a connection and furthers communication, helping all to process and relax into the transition. In society today, there's not much in the way of ritual that helps us to get through this long-term process, which is sad, because it's sorely needed. Death's door swings both ways, both in leading into it and after you've gone through. Pluto's black banner hangs silent and limp in these windless corridors.

  After my second wife Gail passed, she was in the middle of reading the Harry Potter series. While on her death bed, those who came to assist would read to her, but she passed before they finished. I made a vow I would finish it for her and did, reading a chapter to her out loud each time at her grave site. Naturally, I'd make comments at various points and we'd laugh together over the funny parts.

  It helped.

  As Dad processed Mom's loss over the last three years, his outer layers began to peal away and I came to know the child in him I had never known, the little Donnie that had been sealed behind the discipline and training of a West Point officer in war time. After showering and drying him, cutting, washing and combing his hair for instance, he would let me know that his part was on the other side, as that's where Harriett (his mother) had had it.

  I stood corrected. His Moon (habits, memories, patterns and domestic upbringing) in Virgo (a precise and particular way of doing things) was remembering an earlier time, and the way it had been done.

  While with him last year I would come in at night and tell him the stories of the day while I scratched his head, and I'd see a twinkle in his eye as he listened, truly drinking in these simple tales...

  When Dad was little, his mother, having thrown in the towel on his musical education, would have him learn lines of verse from a book that still sits on his shelf, One Hundred and One Famous Poems. Naturally, after study he would recite them to her. Here and there a few verses were underlined in pencil as particularly poignant or insightful. Whether these were his or hers I have no way of knowing.

  I've been reading to him from this selection. The copyright date suggests that Dad was four years old when it was published in 1929. I remember pulling it out myself and reading from it as a child, although no one made me learn its secrets. Dad never read it to us while we were young as he was on his career path and entirely too busy to read to his children. He was born to life between the two wars, a time of technological achievement and triumph, when industry was paving the way to a more glorious future. From 101's preface:

  "This is the age of science, of steel- of speed and the cement road. The age of hard faces and hard highways. Science and steel demand the medium of prose. Speed requires only the look- the gesture. What need then, for poetry?"

  It goes on to basically say, "Need, indeed."

  Here are two of those poems that spoke to me, in sequence the first and twelfth in the book. The first is Longfellow's The Builders, while the latter was penned by Walt Whitman.

  As you read them please know that Dad may be listening.

Henrey Wadsworth Longfellow

H. W. Longfellow

  "All are architects of Fate,
Working in these walls of Time;
Some with massive deeds and great,
Some with ornaments of rhyme.

"Nothing useless is, or low;
Each thing in its place is best;
And what seems but idle show
Strengthens and supports the rest.

"For the structure that we raise,
Time is with materials filled;
Our todays and yesterdays
Are the blocks with which we build.

"Truly shape and fashion these;
Leave no yawning gaps between;
Think not, because no man sees,
Such things will remain unseen.

"In the elder days of Art,
Builders wrought with greatest care
Each minute and unseen part;
For the gods see everywhere.

"Let us do our work as well,
Both the unseen and the seen;
Make the house where gods may dwell
Beautiful, entire, and clean.

"Else our lives are incomplete,
Standing in these walls of Time,
Broken stairways, where the feet
Stumble, as they seek to climb.

"Build today, then, strong and sure,
With a firm and ample base;
And ascending and secure
Shall tomorrow find its place.

"Thus alone can we attain
To those turrets, where the eye
Sees the world as one vast plain,
And one boundless reach of sky."

  ...and from Mr. Whitman:

Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman in 1864

  "O Captain! My Captain!
our fearful trip is done;
The ship has weather'd every rack,
the prize we sought is won;
The port is near, the bells I hear,
the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel,
the vessel grim and daring.

"But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

"O Captain! My Captain!
rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up- for you the flag is flung-
for you the bugle trills;
For you bouquets and ribbon'd wreaths-
for you the shores a-crowding;
For you they call, the swaying mass,
their eager faces turning:

"Here Captain! dear father!
This arm beneath your head;
It is some dream that on the deck
You've fallen cold and dead.

"My Captain does not answer,
his lips are pale and still;
My father does not feel my arm,
he has no pulse or will;
The ship is anchor'd safe and sound,
its voyage closed and done;
From fearful trip the victor ship
comes in with object won;

"Exult , O Shores, and ring, O bells!
But I, with mournful tread,
Walk the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead."


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