Bowbow Has Now Been Five Years Beyond
Bowbow went exploring post-earthly existence five years ago now, and I miss her still just as much as I did on the day she passed away.
Lately, though, I've encountered some writings I wish I'd had available four years ago. The words wouldn't have lessened the pain, but they might have helped me maintain more stoicism about my grief.
The words are those of the greatest orator of the 19th Century, Robert Green Ingersoll - a firmly atheistic free-thinker. He gave two eulogies in the fall/winter of 1881-82 and both of them contained the most sensible possible thoughts about death, in some of the most striking imagery and poetic and lofty language I've ever read. The first eulogy was for RGI's brother, Clark, two years senior to Ingersoll and who had suddenly passed away at about age 50.
Ingersoll said this:
"Dear Friends: I am going to do that which the dead oft promised he would do for me.
"The loved and loving brother, husband, father, friend, died where manhood's morning almost touches noon, and while the shadows still fell toward the west.
"He had not passed on life's highway the stone that marks the highest point; but being weary for a moment, he lay down by the wayside, and using his burden for a pillow, fell into that dreamless sleep that kisses down his eyelids still. While yet in love with life and raptured with world, he passed to silence and pathetic dust.
"Yet, after all, it may be best, just in the happiest, sunniest hour of all the voyage, while eager winds are kissing every sail, to dash against the unseen rock, and in an instant hear the billows roar above a sunken ship. For whether in mid -sea or 'mong the breakers of the farther shore, a wreck at last must mark the end of each and all. And every life, no matter if its every hour is rich with love and every moment jeweled with joy, will, at its close, become a tragedy as sad and deep and dark as can be woven of the warp and woof of mystery and death.
"This brave and tender man in every storm of life was oak and rock; but in the sunshine he was vine and flower. He was the friend of all heroic souls. He climbed the heights, and left all superstitions far below, while on his forehead fell the golden dawning of the grander day.
"He loved the beautiful, and was with color, form, and music touched to tears. He sided with the weak, the poor, and wronged, and lovingly gave alms. With loyal heart and with the purest hands he faithfully discharged all public trusts.
"He was a worshiper of liberty, a friend of the oppressed. ... He believed that happiness is the only good, reason the only torch, justice the only worship, humanity the only religion, and love the only priest.
"He added to the sum of human joy; and were every one to whom he did some loving service to bring a blossom to his grave, he would sleep tonight beneath a wilderness of flowers.
"Life is a narrow vale between the cold and barren peaks of two eternities. We strive in vain to look beyond the heights. We cry aloud. and the only answer is the echo of our wailing cry. From the voiceless lips of the unreplying dead there comes no word; but in the night of death hope sees a star and listening love can hear the rustle of a wing.
"He who sleeps here, when dying, mistook the approach of death for the return of health, whispered with his last breath, 'I am better now.' Let us believe, in spite of doubts and dogmas, of fears and tears, that those dear words are true of all the countless dead.
"The record of a generous life runs like a vine around the memory of our dead, and every sweet, unselfish act is now a perfumed flower.
"And now, to you, who have been chosen, from among the many men he loved, to do the last sad office for the dead, we give his sacred dust.
"Speech cannot contain our love. There was, there is, no gentler, stronger, manlier man."
Not long after his brother's death, Ingersoll tried to help console some grieving friends by attending the funeral of his friends' infant daughter. At the father's spontaneous graveside request, Ingersoll delivered a few impromptu words while rain poured down on all in attendance.
"My friends: I know how vain it is to gild a grief with words, and yet I wish to take from the grave its fear. Here in this world, where life and death are equal kings, all should be brave enough to meet what all the dead have met.
"The future has been filled with fear, stained and polluted by the heartless past. From the wondrous tree of life the buds and blossoms fall with ripened fruit, and in the common bed of earth, patriarchs and babes sleep side by side.
"Who should fear that which will come to all that is? We cannot tell, we do not know, which is the greater blessing -- life or death. We cannot say that death is not a good. We do not know whether the grave is the end of this life, or the door of another, or whether the night here is not somewhere a dawn. Neither can we tell which is the more fortunate -- the child dying in its mother's arms, before its lips have learned to form a word, or he who journeys all the length of life's uneven road, painfully taking the last slow steps with staff and crutch.
"Every cradle asks us 'Whence?' and every coffin 'Whither?'
"The poor barbarian, weeping above his dead, can answer these questions just as well as the robed priest of the most authentic creed. The tearful ignorance of the one, is as consoling as the learned and unmeaning words of the other.
"No man, standing where the horizon of a life has touched a grave, has any right to prophesy a future filled with pain and tears.
"May be that death gives all there is of worth to life. If those we press and strain within our arms could never die, perhaps that love would wither from the earth. Maybe this common fate treads out from the paths between our hearts the weeds of selfishness and hate.
"And I had rather live and love where death is king, than have eternal life where love is not. Another life is naught, unless we know and love again the ones who love us here.
"They who stand with breaking hearts around this little grave, need have no fear. The larger and the nobler faith in all that is, and is to be, tells us that death, even at its worst, is only perfect rest. We know that through the common wants of life -- the needs and duties of the hour -- their grief will lessen day by day, until at last this grave will be to them a place of rest and peace -- almost of joy. There is for them this consolation: the dead do not suffer. If they live again, their lives will surely be as good as ours. We have no fear. We are all children of the same mother, and the same fate awaits us all. We, too, have our religion, and it is this: Help for the living -- Hope for the dead."
Quite a bit of Robert Green Ingersoll's amazing linguistic prestidigitation can be read at or downloaded from:
Bowbow, you certainly taught me all that is worth knowing about true, unselfish love. I hope that wherever you are exploring now, you are happy and free. I know that if you exist anywhere, you surely must be the same loving girl as always. I miss you.