Here's introducing today's guest post from Vero Stewart!
In eighth grade I wrote my first will. It was a Word 2003 document in size 14 Comic Sans font. My Beatles CDs, yarn, and posters were carefully divided among those closest to me. I allotted half of my allowance savings to go to deactivating hidden land mines in the Middle East and the other half to my best friends. I updated it every year religiously until senior year of high school (not realizing that it was in no way a valid legal document).
I was nothing if not persistent.
At that point my relationship with death was like a string of bad breakups. Updating the document was like a ritual of protection, holding back death and all its demons. For a bit afterwards we coexisted in this fragile peace. Then the panic of dying I’d happily buried shoved its hand out of the grave and gripped me by the neck. Look at me, it insisted, but every time I closed my eyes and held my breath until the storm passed.
And that’s the way the West handles dying nowadays. Squinting at it from afar. Turning away when it gets too close.
Studying anthropology in college (and its partner archaeology) was the beginning of a very, very slow shift of my perception. You can’t ignore death in anthropology. It’s the entire subject. What those who have passed did, what they left behind. Spend four days measuring skulls in class and eventually you’ll pick up on the fact that one day, someone could be measuring yours too. Accepting this fact rather than running from it can help us be more compassionate human beings. The circle of life wouldn’t be a circle if it didn’t involve death. Then it’d just be the dot of life, and that doesn’t make as good a song.
Anthropology studies the entire body of humanity. History, architecture, biology, bones, art, writing. It’s an examination of the unwritten will of our ancestors. We were given all this, whether we wanted it or not. And while a lot of it is horrible, ironic, or outright bizarre, there is a poignant thread of creation throughout it all. Crudely smashed daggers, red ochre hand prints made by firelight. Funeral jewelry tucked into mummy wraps, carvings of stone made from countless callused hands. Staggering amounts of pottery shards. The sheer ferocity of creation found in every era of human history, pins on the timeline of history scribbled like writing on the bathroom stall: I was here.
I no longer have my old will. That document got lost three computers ago. But now death and I are on better terms. I will look at him when he asks me to and only panic a little. I’m still an asshole when I get mad about stupid things, but (I hope) I don’t stay mad as long. There’s just not enough time to.
And until the day I become bone, I’ll be writing on the bathroom stalls so history knows. I was here.
Vero Stewart stays up too late making things and dreaming about space. She interns at the Burrow Press publishing house while exploring life outside academia. She has a cat, and he is beautiful. You can find her art and writings at vero-stewart.squarespace.com.