Tie me at the crossroads when I die

Thom reflects on the meaning of life

For Your Consideration

Saturday would have been my dad’s 82nd birthday.

I woke up Sunday morning thinking about him because I thought it was August 15. I called my mom, who said it was yesterday.

It was only two months ago that he died — yes, died, I hate the weak euphemisms we use, like ‘passed on,’ for crappy stuff that happens — but already those moments when he’s in my head and it doesn’t seem right he’s gone are fading.

It’s amazing how something as visceral as grief can pass so quickly. That’s a good thing. We wouldn’t survive if we couldn’t get beyond it. Some people don’t.

Soon he will be all but forgotten. I don’t mean by me. And by soon, I mean in the grand scheme of time.

How many people are ever really remembered by history? Only those who did the grandest or the most horrific of things.

How many great composers and artists and writers can you name from bygone eras?

Who among has can even name all the prime ministers our very young country has had?

I played golf on Sunday and at the ninth hole sat down on the bench. There was a plaque for Mike Parrish. I didn’t know who he was. Now, I know he died in 2012 and was a member of the golf club board from 1988-1996.

I’ll forget that too very quickly. In fact, I’m not really sure of either the name or the dates I just quoted, but I’m not going to fact-check them because it’s part of my point.

The people I was playing with knew him, but they’re not going to be around forever either, nor will the bench nor the golf course nor the mountain that makes it such a beautiful walk wasted for that matter.

Soon my dad will have a plaque somewhere in Ottawa and maybe some people will see it and will wonder, ‘who was Robert M. Barker?’

In his later years, my dad did a lot of research on our family’s genealogy. Even getting beyond his own and my mom’s grandparents was a challenge.

For all his work, all we really have is some biographical information on them. But every one of those people lived full and event-filled lives.

Even the people we know quite well, we only really have a glimpse of their lives. Every minute of every day that we’re not with them they are experiencing the world with all the richness and sorrow and mundaneness it entails, just as we are.

At some point in the future, every single one of us will merely be a memory of somebody very old or a plaque or a tombstone or a byline on a newspaper column in an archive somewhere that makes people briefly wonder, who? And eventually, not even that.

One of my favourite song choruses of all time is from Bruce Cockburn’s song “Tie Me At The Crossroads.”

“Tie me at the crossroads when I die; Hang me in the wind ‘til I get good and dry; And the kids that pass can scratch their heads; And say, “who was that guy?”; Hang me at the crossroads when I die.”

I’m not writing this out of a sense of moroseness or sadness. In fact, it gives me a great deal of comfort. It is a reminder that we should pursue our passions for their own sake, not for posterity or some fleeting chance at a legacy that will be swallowed by time.

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