Thomas Lynch on Sex and Death

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Simply put, there’s an outstanding interview with Thomas Lynch in the new issue of Willow Springs. Lynch is a poet and an essayist–with half a dozen books of poetry and nonfiction writing to his credit. He’s also a funeral director in Milford, Michigan. “I write sonnets and I embalm,” he told Willow Springs, “and I’m happy to take questions on any subject in between those two.”

As it turns out, the space in between poetry and embalming is expansive, studded with crackling-fresh observations and gloriously shrewd remarks. I urge you to take a spin through the entire interview. Here’s a little taste of what’s to come:

On everyday life:I think most people drive around all day being vexed by images of mortality and vitality. All they’re wondering about is how they’re going to die and who they’re going to sleep with, or variations on that theme. . . .

On Roe v. Wade:Twenty-five years after Roe v. Wade we’re still carping about it–thirty years now. You have to say it’s not a great law if we’re still carping about it. Settle law when it’s settled, you know. Whatever the outcome, the way they got there was not right. Didn’t work. Hasn’t worked.

On faith:I was on a panel a couple of weeks ago at a synagogue, called, “The Same but Different.” . . . There were hospice people and social workers and clergy, and I was to give the keynote speech about funeral customs and bereavement and how we respond to death–that type of thing. The lunchtime panel was a rabbi, a priest, a pastor, and an imam. And one of the questions from the audience was, “Does religion ever get in the way of people?”

They all gave predictable answers until the imam said, “There is no trouble with Islam. Muslims, however, are troublesome.”

And I thought, Isn’t it just so? I haven’t any trouble with Catholicism or Christianity, but Catholics, myself included–and particularly the reverend clergy–can really put me through spasms of doubt and wonder. And here’s the difference: I have come to think of them as articles of faith, as something that the life of faith requires us to doubt and wonder and ask and mistrust and think it over and ask again.

On what makes us human:When anthropologists are trying to figure out the place at which that walking anthropoid crossed the human barrier, it is when the anthropoid began to notice its mortality. I mean, that is the signature event–that we do something about mortality. Other living, breathing, sexy things don’t. Cocker spaniels, rhododendrons–they don’t bother with that stuff. They don’t seem to care about others of their kind dying. We do.

Source: Willow Springs

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