Caskets for sale
March 4, 2012
About five miles north of Gilmer, Texas, on the west side of U. S. Highway 271, I encountered this sign. I was on the way to the first Saturday meeting of the Northeast Texas Writers Organization (NETWO) to listen to a presentation about social media.
While I was at the meeting, the sign kept running through my head. We discussed Facebook, writing, Twitter, blogging. We ate pizza and talked about Romance novels, point of view, the state of independent publishing, editing, Kindle Direct, the Kindle Fire. We bemoaned the demise of bookstores, pondered print on demand, exchanged email addresses.
We parsed John Locke’s approach to selling eBooks.
There was even a passing mention of Tweetdeck, Tweetadder, Triberr and Stumbleupon.
We chased rabbits down a trail about how “Christian fiction” is an anomaly, a name for a Mickey Mouse version of the world where people talk like saints when they hit their fingers with a hammer.
“Oh, gosh, that hurt like heck,” he said piously.
But we never got around to discussing life and death.
What have we come to as writers? Is it really just a matter of figuring out a book cover that catches someone’s eye, or do we need to reassess what’s happening to us?
Five miles from the Pizza Inn in Pittsburg, Texas, where writers meet to talk about their craft, someone has set up shop selling cheap caskets to the public.
For whom? Borders? Barnes and Noble?
I don’t think so.
The person who will be laid to rest in a $500 coffin is someone’s father or mother. Maybe it will be an uncle that drank himself to death on rotgut whiskey trying to forget the girl that Dear Johned him when he was freezing his butt off in Korea (I’m not trying to publish this as a “Christian” genre blog, so I can say “butt” if I want). Maybe a dad and mom will have to scrimp together a few hundred dollars and borrow the rest to lay their only child in the ground after she ran out into the road to fetch a baseball that got away. Maybe the kids will pitch in and buy grandma a cheap pine box because they have spent everything they had attempting to provide a suitable place for her while she wasted away with Alzheimer’s.
Perhaps a WWII vet will die a pauper in the psych ward at the county hospital, and the proprietor of the store on Highway 271 will receive a call.
“$500 is as low as I can go. Oh, you think you’ll need three this week? Okay, I can give them to you for $450 each, but that’s it,” he said before he hung up the phone.
Or maybe a church will rent a “nice” casket for Easter Sunday services, and leave it open at the front of the sanctuary so the preacher can make his point about the resurrection of Jesus.
Maybe some poor widow who has outlived everyone she loved and everyone who loved her has one on layaway, paying $25 per month on it out of her Social Security check, hoping she gets it free and clear before the final day arrives.
Aren’t these the stories we should tell? Shouldn’t we craft novels about things that are ultimately important, about the struggles that decimate people, the victories that keep them alive for a few more breaths?
Life is not a genre, death not a Kindle best-seller category.
Perhaps we shouldn’t treat them as such.