Sursum CordaWednesday, June 09, 2010
Tomorrow will be a strange day for me. It will be my first participation in the spreading of the earthly remains of a friend, Abraham Rogatnick.
I have always avoided wakes and most ceremonies to celebrate in death the life of someone. Perhaps my avoidance of these events began in Buenos Aires when I was 8. My neighbour’s son was killed in a Vespa accident. We went to the wake next door and the open coffin revealed a human nose. The rest was reconstituted and bandaged face.
On my first day as a conscript in the Argentine Navy, I was dispatched (even those unranked were ranked by the registration number. Those that preceded me had lower numbers.) to a funeral. I was sent to the Chacarita Cemetery (Perón would ultimately be buried there as it is the people’s cemetery) to stand guard over the open coffin of some retired petty officer I had never met. It was 42 Celcius and I had to take the overpowering scent of gladioli for 12 hours. I am unsure to this day why I did not faint!
I buried my father (a low budget funeral) with the money that I found in his pockets when he died. He had been saving the money so he could bribe some army general into sending me home (Mexico) early from my navy obligations. I could not afford a plot “in perpetuity” so after 7 years I knew they would dig up my father’s remains and cast them who knows where.
When my mother died my friend Raúl helped me buy the coffin but I was so moved by it all that I never went (perhaps I did and I have forgotten) to the burial in the cemetery far out into the State of Mexico. I instructed my aunt Fermina Miranda to inscribe on the headstone what my mother had always told me when she saw me depressed: Sursum corda (from the Latin Mass) which means lift up your heart.
Since my mother’s funeral I have managed to avoid most others. But since I arrived in Vancouver in 1975 I have managed to photograph so many people of our city and somehow those that run the memorial services, when these people die, decide that my portrait is the one to be used for the sevice. I sometimes wonder if that will be the only talent I will be remembered by, “He photographed them for that ultimate portrait to be remembered by in death.”
When my friend Abraham Rogatnick died last year I was asked by Sam Sullivan and his wife Lynne Zanatta to participate in the organization of his memorial. This was, in the end a most pleasant task as our meetings had good food and beautiful chats about our exchanges and experiences with Rogatnick when he was alive. And I made new friends.
But the spreading of Rogatnick’s ashes tomorrow from a boat in Indian Arm has made me feel a tad depressed and uncertain. What is going to happen?
It brings to mind a book I read when my father died and which I have treasured since then. From the posthumous memoirs, Markings, of United Nations Secretary General, Dag Hammarskjöld and translated by no less than W.H. Auden there is this:
If even dying is to be made a social function, then, please, grant me the favour of sneaking out on tiptoe without disturbing the party.
More sursum corda
The Architect and the Architect's Ashes