Thursday, March 19, 2009

Obit Magazine: Finding Life in Death

Screen Grab: Obit magazine.

had to go in for surgery on Friday and for the last week I've been recuperating at home. All is well, but it has taken me out of the loop for a few weeks. My friends and family have supplied an amazing array of food, DVD's, books, and music with the hopes that I won't go batty from this forced repose (they know me well). I've spent a lot of time with one book in particular called When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron. You may think it a rather dire title for a friend to suggest in the midst of such a recovery, but the book is the perfect antidote to the thoughts that arise when faced with doctors, hospitals, and all the attendant glory of our health care system. Not to mention, well, our own health.

Chodron is a practicing Buddhist and the book centers on the idea that life is never about stasis; rather it is about flux. Life is about the unknown and how you respond to the not knowing. "Fear of death is the background of the whole thing," she writes. "It's why we feel restless, why we panic, why there's anxiety."

Sometime this winter I started receiving an eblast from a magazine called Obit. It's been around since April of 2007, but I hadn't heard of it. Now I see it everywhere, including this critique by Rick Poyner for Eye magazine. Here's how the editors of Obit describe their content:

Death gives life its immediacy. Because we know it will end, we savor and value life all the more. Obit examines life through the lens of death. Whether it’s the loss of a person, a place, an object or an idea, life’s constant change presents an opportunity for examination, discussion and even celebration.

By examining the transformations we face, we can understand how the past influences our time and our future. Obit aims to offer a forum for ideas and opinions about life, death, and transition that you will find nowhere else.

Obit Magazine provides comprehensive coverage on how the loss of a person, a place, an object or an idea presents an opportunity for examination and discussion. Obit is not solely about death. It asks the question, "What defines an important life?" It is a forum for ideas and opinions about life, death, and transition written by some of the most respected journalists in the American media.

There are articles covering everything from the spiritual and artistic to the scientific and the humorous. There's reportage on business, politics, and sports. There are blogs and opinion pieces and, of course, there are obituaries. There are some interesting pieces on urban planning and cities, too, such as Thomas J. Campanella's After the Inferno, which asks, "Did the Mandarin Hotel fire signal the demise of the Beijing building boom?"

The hotel fire in Beijing.

The range of articles is fascinating. The undercurrent is always about endings–and, conversely, new beginnings—and this approach is incredibly refreshing. It's a wonderful spin on our culture's normal fear and denial of the obvious. We want firmament. We want security. Current events serve as a vivid reminder of just how easily the rug can get pulled out from under us. This magazine challenges our mindeset by embracing the ephemeral and celebrating all of the things that make us so wonderfully creative and flawed and loving even in the face of the inevitable. It's a reminder to examine and accept the passings as we would the beginnings.

Which brings me to another wonderful passage from Chondron's book. "Sometimes it seems we have a preference for darkness and speed. We can protest and complain and hold a grudge for a thousand years. But in the midst of the bitterness and resentment, we have a glimpse of the possibility...We hear a child crying or smell that someone is baking bread. We feel the coolness of the air or see the first crocus of spring. Despite ourselves we are drawn out by the beauty in our own backyard."