Monday, July 12, 2010

Unveilings and Haiti

Yesterday morning I was at the Jewish cemetery in Regina for the unveiling of the tombstone of a friend. She was an elderly lady that died a year ago. In the Jewish tradition we bury our dead very quickly and very simply. The body is rarely embalmed and the burial is usually within 24 hours if possible. The burial is simple in that the coffin is an all wood, unadorned casket and the body is dressed in simple white garments. Following the funeral the family sits 'shiva' - a week of intense mourning which is then followed by 'shloshim' - 30 days of mourning. Mourning is officially over at that point however the family says kaddish every day for the next 11 months.

The unveiling is a tradition where the headstone marker is unveiled at the grave site. This usually happens around a year after the funeral.

The unveiling yesterday was well attended and the prayers are readings were appropriate. It was a sunny warm day - although I always find a chill in the air when I am in a cemetery.

I also visited my relatives who are buried in this cemetery - my uncle and his first wife. His wife is usually hard for me to find as she is buried at the back on the far north side. But yesterday I walked directly to her grave - pair my respects - and then spent a half an hour looking for my uncle.

Spending time in a cemetery always makes me a bit introspective. Questions come up - what is life about? who will remember me? what will I leave? does anything beyond death matter as long as I have been a good person before death?

In this mood I was driving home and was listening to reports about the continuing devastation in Haiti. Evidently, despite billions of dollars of promised aid, there has been very little progress in helping the Haitian people crawl out from under the wreckage.

Many people and many governments donated to the Haitian cause. Taking this action is worthy of praise and appropriate but like all things one needs to make sure that 'giving' isn't the end of the story. Action is needed to directly and overtly change the conditions that victims of disasters find themselves in. The effects of Katrina in New Orleans and the lackadaisical relief efforts are a good model of what not to do.

My questions raised at the cemetery were answered by the Haitian reports. Do something, change something, make something better....... Who cares who knows or who remembers - an important part of being able to live with myself is to make sure that part of my living is aimed at helping all of us be better off in one way or another.

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