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Friday, November 3, 2023

A Marked Grave

By:   Stanislaus Barua
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Photo by Stanislaus Barua Photo by Stanislaus Barua

A semi-ornate, marble cross lies broken atop a marble tombstone at the Langata Cemetery, in Nairobi, Kenya. The grave no longer seems to attract much attention, though the lawn beside it does. The marker is unintelligible. There is still the portrait affixed to the cross, of a forgotten elegant middle-aged man in suit and tie. There is the rust blood-red hue to the earth, and the grass next to the grave is short and a verdant green. 

Who was that buried man, and what did he do in life, most would ask. (Being and doing were inseparable.) To ask is to think. (Being and thinking used to be surprisingly inseparable, as were thinking and doing.) Though the fruits of thought vary greatly, the one constant is that work far transcends the intentions of the single man. Thoughts are infectious, never isolated, however hard those in laboratory, medical, prison, and designer coats may try to tell the living. Indeed, some of the most isolated men know thoroughly the power, intensity and results of thought and labour. Maximum security prison convicts anywhere, Holy Land hermits, exiles to Marxist gulags, North Korean Christians or – imminently – Canadian Catholics are but a few examples. The federal Criminal Code of Canada typically permits the killing of a person (actually, all 13,241 persons in 2022) “only under very specific eligibility criteria (which) must satisfy certain safeguards first”.

Yes, labour reflects more than one man's station, interests, appetite, appearance. It marks generations, doing so visibly and invisibly. Even then, work marks the particular man most, however LinkedIn or apparatchik he may be. 

Since time immemorial, men have overwhelmingly seen the grave as a mark of (on!) the living, one testifying that work impacts beyond graves. A forgotten, unmarked grave used to indicate sad rift. Today it telegraphs thoughts, “criteria” and “safeguards” much older, more sinister, false and tragic. We mark bodies the way we mark graves, and vice versa. Increasingly, urns mark a passage of man to dust, being to oblivion, the accidental into nothing, hominid to joystick. Living persons are encouraged to identify with and become beasts the work of broken minds and deceived hands.

There will, of course, always be those who pay more attention to the grass than to the cross and grave.

The natural, the obvious, the cultured, the sacred appear to be splintered, shattered by a global, revolutionary Undertaker. On closer scrutiny, the sheer absurdity of his thought and of the work that marks him, his once-unintelligible, even geeky intent, surfaces in all its inanity.

On this Feast of All Souls, across a land that courts being consumed whole by a savage New Man, an efficiently heartless Hominid, there is an Artificially Intelligent and godless ÜberApe paused at emerging. Like two very famous Kenya-born men Dr. Richard Leakey and Sir Richard Dawkins, it purports to have no soul, just a big brain evolving in a health-obsessed, genetically modified, Africa-loving organism. It wants every newborn child to have a biometric Life Number because it fears that we are all "at risk of non-compliance with international enforcement agencies' standards" and therefore may soon be "restricted from traveling or from accessing government services". Indeed, it wants much more  –  that every conceived person be a marked, walking, breathing, brainiac, soulless grave.

All Souls Day was always a good moment to take a peek at "standards", and at one's "Life Number", from a very Christian memento mori  perspective. Only the most naïve, unintelligent and Bolshevik will associate "Life Number" with benevolent "government services", with "technical experts and partners", with a "smooth rollout", and other spun yarn all resembling that Langata Cemetery tomb. Only those most unaware of themselves of the human environment disassociate soul from standards and numbers.

How many tech-savvy Catholics curious about the stylish but dead man will care to contemplate their own verdant (or imploding) soul, and pray for his and theirs at a grave today? How many will associate the mark of baptism and the mark of confirmation with the very reason for memento mori, and for a rightly marked life and grave? How few shall remember to do the work of God instead of political, criminal, pseudo-just agitation? Who recalls what Operi Dei nihil praeponatur means anymore?

There will, of course, always be those who pay more attention to the grass than to the cross and grave. For them, Maisha Namba is just Swahili for Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's digital ID currently in development in Kenya. It is what you naturally get after Bill Gates has "closed-door meetings" with Kenya's President Dr. William Samoei Ruto. Those who speak languages with voiced stop consonants, with glottal, fricative or implosive features will tell you that tone is important to conveying correct meaning. Yes, tone, moderation, nuance matter when it comes to every work of mercy, every work of charity. What maisha namba actually means, and what relevance it has to marked graves, to works (of mercy and charity, or to the works of evil) hinges as much on one’s observance of the Feast of All Souls as on a multitude’s nuanced scorn, mockery, caricature, applause, entertaining, perhaps, the mark of the beast that is in the Apocalypsis, The Revelation to Saint John the Evangelist:

“Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, so that no one can buy or sell who does not have the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name.”

(Revelation 13:16-17)

Though the meaning of the Maasai word langata matters enough here, don't souls matter more, more than greenery, than unintelligible words, than the Opera dei Pupi of ID fables? Don't you?

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Last modified on Monday, November 6, 2023