Cranium: (n) the part of the skull that encloses the brain.
After nearly six years of living in a vegetative state, unable to communicate, in what appeared to be constant discomfort and pain, my son, Joshua, died of pneumonia.
We were traveling at the time, and found ourselves in the state of Washington. The state law required an autopsy. I was in no mood to object. I certainly did not want to interrupt my grieving by arguing over a body that had long ago lost its impetus, and now was finally granted rest.
After a couple of days, the coroner called me on the phone and told me I could come in and meet with him to go over the results of his findings. We had a lovely chat.
When I arrived at the surprisingly small facility, he invited me back to the morgue where he was working on a murder victim who had just come in. I don’t know whether I was supposed to be there—if it was legal or proper, but I think from our conversation on the phone, the coroner had developed some tenderness and empathy, and felt like we could talk.
Shortly after I arrived in the room, where there was a body covered with a sheet, the coroner was beckoned to take a phone call. I sat in a chair, waiting for his return, trying to mentally gain perspective on the past few days.
I was peering around the room when my eyes suddenly fell on a skull sitting on a shelf. A cranium.
For some reason, even though there was plenty of light in the room, I felt all alone and frightened. I wanted to run away. I had no business being in that room, and certainly not in my present broken condition.
When the coroner didn’t return, I stared at that skull. That cranium. A bony case which once held a brain—a mind filled with millions of thoughts, feelings, connections, purposes and perhaps a poem memorized at age five.
It was surreal.
How could we humans be so alive, so full of wonder, inspiration and creativity, and then, with the removal of blood and oxygen, turn into what appeared to be a cheap prop from a horror flick?
Part of me was crying for my lost son. But some of me was weeping for us, as humans.
How noble our creation.
How fragile our pose.
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