What I will miss when I die are many things: walks in the park, holding hands with my wife, chocolate and vanilla, curling up with a good book, shopping for books, and many, many other things. I will miss friendship, because I am convinced from the few mystical suggestions in Revelations that we will know each other but differently than we do now, whatever that means. I may be becoming somewhat more rationalist as I age, more of a deist, concerned with the here and the now, for I do believe with real certainty that the life beyond this one will be favorable and shine like the sun.
When I die, I am sure that I will miss certain aspects of church, although I imagine that worship will be more direct and even more meaningful. My wife and I became—I became—Episcopalian/Anglican because (1) the English connection, (2) the richness of the liturgy, (3) the meditative silences that seem built into the service, and finally (4) the tradition of reasoning about faith. We switched to Anglican worship and communion while living in Arkansas to get away as far as possible from the unrepentant Southern Baptist influence—they have never come to terms with their corporate sins of slavery, sexism, racism, and a general disregard for others. (I sometime think these are the sins we are still living without acknowledging, which is why we have as a nation ended up as an angry, xenophobic people electing a man who is a confirmed racist and sexist to our highest office.) In the name of “Christian” love, some have corrupted society into a panopticon that does nothing but judge others as unworthy.
When we lived in Arkansas, our last landlords were Southern Baptist, and they were nasty people because we did not fit their mode. The female member of that family became incensed when Angie, through no fault of her own, lost her job at the school where we taught and had to go back to waitressing. She said to me that she hadn’t thought she was renting to “that kind of folk” when she rented us the house. She made every excuse in the book to come over early on Saturday morning when she knew my wife had worked late the night before and was sleeping in, always demanding to “talk to Angie” about this or that. Our next door neighbor, a sweet older southern woman, told us that the woman had it out for us; and even the cleaning lady who came in as we were preparing to move out (and move back East) told us that the landlord’s wife had described the house as wrecked when it wasn’t even mildly dirty. (The female member of the landlord couple simply hated the fact that we turned one of the front rooms into a bookroom instead of a nursery—even though books do not throw up, color the walls, mess up the carpet, etc. The house had berber carpet in a slightly off-white, which showed every dirt speck and was the most uncomfortable carpeting I have ever set on—like prickles of a cactus telling you to get up, keep moving, keep working for the man…). While there were certainly exceptions—and many of whom remain dear friends—I have to say that that area of the Bible Belt had an evil, evil culture that was damaging to us and which I do not miss.
I guess when I die I will miss memory as well, perhaps even most of all. I know our memories if kept will be refined and refocused, yet there now is a certain joie de vive in remembering and lamenting those who have gone on before us; a certain pain-for-pain-sake, divine delectation in the quiet languishing of a broken, grieving heart. I think this aspect of my character, rather akin to the joyful wallowing in misery that May Sarton describes in the French writer Collette in Sarton’s journal Recovering, comes out particularly in my loving to listen to singers who have passed—Mama Cass, Minnie Ripperton, Tammi Terrell, Karen Carpenter, Ella Fitzgerald (especially her aging recordings of the ‘80s and early 90s). I also seem to enjoy “old” but still living artists, like Willie Nelson, who is just amazing; and the late recordings of Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash (where I do not necessarily listen to their earlier recordings much if at all). There is just a wonderful band of these aging country male and female singers that I have found very commensurate with this perhaps deliberate miserableness on my part, but that also strengthens me to live out my life strongly and forthrightly, because after you get to a certain age, you do not care what others think or how others evaluate you because you stand requisite in your own skin and in your own space. At times, I hope I have and can achieve that level of confidence and certainty as well.