This article originally appeared on Tikkun Daily on May 29, 2010.
The dead do not need us. They do not need our visits to their gravesites where flesh and bone feed the earth. They do not need our flags, flowers, work of grave maintenance or the libation of our tears. They do not need our pilgrimage to their mausoleum or to the place where we scattered their ashes.
The dead do not need us. They do not need our war movie marathons, super sale days, parades, picnics, concerts, fireworks or a moment of silence at 3 pm.
The dead do not need us. Their soul, spirit selves walk in green Elysian Fields with a gentle sun shining on their faces. All the battles for them are over. They feast in Valhalla, eating their favorite foods, drinking their favorite drinks that reappear new every morning. They have already paid the boatman, have crossed the river Styx and now commiserate with Hector and Achilles about the vanity and the futility of war for glory or plunder or territory or will to power. They talk of the foolishness of blindly following orders to kill and to die.
The dead do not need us. Some have chosen Hell itself where they play marathon games of bid whist and pinochle now that Stagger Lee has deposed the devil, installed air conditioning, has the barbeque grill going, the good liquor flowing, the music grooving, the dance floor jumping, and has got the party started.
The dead do not need us. Some are resting in the arms of Abraham or living in a bejeweled city where every tear is wiped away, where there is no sorrow or grief or pain. The old things have passed away and everything is new. They stand around the throne of God with Jesus singing praises world without end. Or they rest on cushions in paradise in the arms of beautiful men and women.
The dead do not need us. Their hearts have already been weighed on the scales of Ma’at and they have flown to their eternal justice. Some have already been reborn according to their karmic necessities. Some have disappeared. Others are a light gone out. Their end is the end they imagined.
The dead do not need us. They have been gathered to their people, have joined the ancestors and now are witnesses and guardians of the living.
The dead do not need us. We need them.
We need to carve the time away from our busy-ness to make the trip to the gravesite, mausoleum or place where we scattered the ashes to re/member. We need them so that we may reconstitute ourselves with full knowledge of the past that lives in us, that lives in the now.
The dead do not need us. We need them to help us think and think again and know that life is hard and painful and sweet and beautiful and too too short no matter how long we live.
We need to go to them and feel the winds of eternal time upon our contemporary, temporary faces. In a minute, our bodies and souls will separate and become water, air, earth, fire and mystery. And how will the world be better because we have lived?
The dead do not need us. We need them to encourage us to change the world for the sake of those who will one day make the trip to the place where our bodies lie or where are ashes flew on the air back to the earth or the waters of the earth. We need them to remind us that war is stupid, that greed is useless, that fear and hatred and vengeance and anger are a waste of thought and effort because when all is said and done it is love that compels us to come to them. It is love and justice that bring peace.
The dead do not need us. We need them. We listen to their silent secrets and they tell us that there is no tribe, nation, race, religion, class, ideology or identity in the world of the dead. They tell us to savor every moment, to eat slowly, to laugh too loud and too often, to taste the salt of our sweat and tears, to love deeply, madly and truly because death is an awful finality.
The dead do not need us. We need them. We need their deathless radical love.