What rebirth is like

09 Jan 2009

When Julius Caesar lay dead on the stones of the forum, a slave crept to him and wetted a small piece of cloth in his blood. When that slave was decades later freed, he moved to Gallia Cisalpina, became a farmer there, and on his deathbed gave the cloth, with its blood-stained corner, to his son.

The son, horrified by the thought of possessing something the august emperor, Caesar's spiritual son, might come calling for --- fear is a great booster of imagination --- quickly disposed of the cloth, with a knife and a cow.

After several days of indigestion, the said cow dropped manure on a bed of flowers before being chased away by the furious wife of the bed's owner.

A little bit of the cloth, of the blood, was contained in that bovine dump, and as the flowers grew, a part of one bloom was made of that fertilizer, because nothing, not even a flower, comes out of nothing at all.

That bloom was picked by a passing soldier, off to north, where he would die drowning in his own blood, leaning against an oak tree as the three legions that had marched to Germania failed to march back. A looter, going through the fallen legionnaire's kit, tossed the dried flower on the ground, where it was nosed and then eaten by a curious rabbit the next night.

A month later the said rabbit was bouncing through a glen as a hawk swooped down, and up went the rabbit, and then down the hawk's gullet.

The hawk in turn was trapped by a hunter, who adorned his cap with a few of its rabbit-fattened feathers, and when decades later the hunter died, now a king of a prosperous Germanic village, the cap and the feather were laid to rest by his side.

After long, quiet centuries of rest, a landslide after long rains tore open the barrow's side, and the feather floated free, down a small river, then down another, until near the Hansa city of Hamburg it clung to the side of a passing fishing boat and stuck there.

A few days later, as the nets were hauled in, one of them brushed the boat's side and brought some dust off the feather up with it, smeared on the side of a flopping pike.

A fisherman, seeing the fish, muttered "Was macht ein Suesswasserfisch in Hamburg?" and, when the boat-owner's back was turned, slipped the pike under his vest. The next night, still chuckling over his cleverness, he baked the fish, and while he chewed his way through it, a bit of the feather's dust, the ancient blood-stain, went down his throat along with a quantity of watery ale.

The sanitary conditions of the Middle Ages being what they were, the fisherman died a couple of days later, the reason being demonic possession if you asked the wild-eyed priest reading his last rites, and food poisoning if you asked reality. His grave was unmarked and barely inside the cemetery, because the year was bad and the priest was timid.

For long years winds and rains washed over the unmarked grave of the poor fisherman, and as time passed, people forgot there was a graveyard there, and thus the shovel-wielding worker digging there a few centuries later got a nasty shock indeed. In all the hubbub over the discovery of a skeleton, the worker fled, looking over one shoulder for a vengeful ghost, over the other for a vengeful work supervisor. Along with his shovel (with grave-mud still clinging to it) he fled to green, safer-to-dig pastures, but passing a tired knight on the road, his shovel happened to brush against the knight's horse harness.

The drop of mud on the horse's harness was transferred to the knight's glove, and was smeared, almost imperceptible, on his rusty, dented helmet. Years later, his helmet still as dirty and dented as always, the knight was ferried north. He fought for the glorious cause of the Teutonic Knights there, against infidels, locals, Russkies and other sundry folk. On the night before the Battle of Tannenberg, where he would die, the knight finally polished his helmet --- though only after sharpening his sword --- and among the remains of decades of encounters with sloshing beer and dive-bombing pigeons, the fleck of mud was scraped away and fell to the ground.

After many long years, a peasant came along, tried nibbling on the grasses at the spot the mud had became grass, and then went along, still hungry but carrying a bit of history. Weeks later he and his wife were together, and as what a man eats becomes a part of him, that bit now became a part of something new in his wife's belly.

After decades of shuttling between the peasant's descendants, the midden, and the crops and household animals, a remainder, a few atoms of what had once been blood, was carried away inside a head of corn, as a tax-payment to a local priest.

The priest, after a final meal of corn and pig, packed his travel-bags and coffins of clothes and books, and was off to further north, to take up a bishopric among the vicious barbarians there.

When in Finland but still short of his destination, the priest was attacked by bandits and killed. A fox nosed the body the next night, took a nibble, and then disappeared into shadows.

Animals don't usually get burials, but the fox got one. It was by a smallish landslide and quite premature, but as animals don't speak, they have trouble complaining. The fox died, next to a big, black stone, three feet underground.

Long years passed, until a steel blade ground through the earth, and with a terrible bang crashed and broke against a big black stone. The farmer cursed for several long minutes, made longer by the fact that his wife was out of earshot, and then kicked the wheel of his tractor, and broke a toe.

By the time the farmer returned from his hospital-visit, it was already late. He quickly finished plowing the field, now cursing all the time, and then retired to watch Finland's Funniest Home Videos.

The field grew rye, built out of nutrients in the ground below, and rain from the above, and energy from the light of the sun. One particular plant grew on the site of the plow's breaking, was harvested, ground to flour, shipped to a bakery, and there baked to traditional rye bread, which I then bought and ate.

As that bread settled in my stomach, and was there disassembled to become replacement atoms for the old parts of me, a part of it ended up replacing dead cells in my fingertips, typing these very sentences --- atoms from Julius Caesar's blood, from rabbit's flesh and hawk's feather, fisherman's grave and farmer's child, from a priest's meal and a fox's feed, pieces of corn and now of me.

There atoms stopped there, that is, for a little while before passing on.

This, rather than spiritualist hooey, is what rebirth is really like.

This was sparked by something Phil Plait wrote. Go get Death from the Skies. Seriously. Go and get it. It's a fabulous, beautiful book of fact.

last updated: (Mar 15 2011)