03 January 2015

Maybe we should respect the dust we walk on

“If man be dust, that which sweeps across the desert, is it people?’  --Octavio Paz

Think of a neatly swept yard.   Think of the elegant crisscrossing in countless front yards across the country, but perhaps more apparent in the Dry Zone.  It is beautiful.  If that’s what some ekels can create with material as freely available as sand, just think what human innovation could create with other material! 

This is not a sand story.  It is more of a dust story.  It is also a story about who we are, what we become and how we see the world.

There are belief systems which claim that humans were made from clay.  Even those who don’t really believe in religion, for example, who think Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution makes sense, would say that the elements rather than a divine entity (god) somehow came together to create life. And of course humans.  Those elements would have naturally been embedded in something.  Like dust. 

Let’s forget creation.  Let’s think of the after-life.  We all die.  We all know someone who has died.  We have all attended funerals.  We have seen the dead being buried or else cremated.  Either way, in the end, dead bodies decay, turn into ask, into dust; hence the well-known observation at Christian funerals, ‘from ashes to ashes, dust to dust.’ 

Now let’s think back.  Let’s go to the time just before we were born.  Let’s go back further.  Let’s go to the beginning of the 20th Century and the Year 1900.  But why stop there, let’s go back to the 1st Century.  Let’s go back to the time of the Buddha, six centuries before Jesus Christ was born.  Let’s go back several million years to the time when our ancient ancestors walked this planet living perhaps more decent lives than we do now. 

Let us return to 2014. Slowly.  Close your eyes and imagine all the millions and millions of people who were born on this planet, who lived, were happy and sad, rejoiced and lamented, who had good days and bad days, reasons to cheer and jeer and who, in the end, died.  What happened to all those millions and millions of dead bodies, have you ever wondered?

Some would have been buried.  Some would have been cremated.  Some, for example those of warriors killed in battle in some sparsely populated corner of the earth, would not have been buried or cremated by the victors who would have proceeded quickly to another battlefield or home, who knows?  Such bodies would have decayed naturally, preyed on by creatures that feed on the dead, creatures who too would have died in due course.  All dust. All ash. 

Here’s the question:  Where did all that ash go, what happened to the dust left behind? 

It moves.   That’s what happens over time.  The elements are never still.  Water and wind move things around.  The sun breaks down the hardest rocks, splits grains of sand into finer grains of sand.  The rain can bring mountains down.  The earth moves too, shifting entire continents.  What chance, then, does the few grams that a human body is reduced to at death have of remaining intact, even if encased in some urn?  Those who came before will, in this way, move all over the earth. They will settle down on the side of a busy highway, upon a leaf and rooftop, gather on stones, river bed and ocean bed, used to build dams and roads, houses and mansions and sandcastles too. 

It’s what you step on. 

We walk, those of us who can; so we can’t really avoid stepping on what could very well be the remains of our ancestors. But if we were to think of dust not as tiny particles that don’t deserve our attention, but as something that’s a part of all those people who came before and made us who we are, they we would step lightly on this earth, someone can argue. 

There are communities on this planet that don’t spit on the earth.  They say ‘Mother Earth’. We do too. In Sinhala, for example, we refer to it as ‘මිහි කත’.  Would we treat our mothers with anything but respect?  But have we paused to ask ourselves, ‘what have we done to this earth, which is nothing if not made of the dust and ash that our ancestors have become?’  It’s more than spitting.  It is about appreciation, gratitude and respect.  It’s not only about ancestors, but our children and generations yet unborn.   We won’t know once we are dead of course, but no one would think it’s lovely to have someone spit on his or her mortal remains, what do you think? 


This is the fourteenth article in a series I am writing for the JEANS section of 'The Nation'.  The series is for children. Adults consider yourselves warned...you might re-discover a child within you! 

Other articles in this series

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2 comments:

Fayaz Moosin said...

The Creator who made you from the dust , the clay the whatever, will re construct you to your fingerprints..

meenakshi khosla. said...

Sublime.