Tag Archives: death

Meeting myself again

I ran into myself in the park again this morning. Last time, Future Mark got out of a car and shuffled over to a bench. There he sat, smoking a cigar, in contemplation. It was a fatter cigar than I currently like, but tastes change over the years. I intuited that this was a ritual for him/me to get away from some less-than-ideal living situation. Perhaps, Future Mark lives in a small apartment or shares space with a friend. More likely, he lives in a warehouse for the not-yet-dead. In the park, with a good smoke, he reclaims our independence, however briefly.

Back then, I avoided contact with Future Mark out of fear of some time paradox. Since then, apparently, I will learn that’s not a problem, because this morning Future Mark approached me, or, more correctly, Luke. Mark held out his hand for Luke to sniff. Luke looked back and forth between us and managed to reconcile the situation; dogs live in the now. Mark looked me in the eye as if delivering a message just for me: "Our dog lived to be 16." (Good news that has a bitter end.) "I can’t imagine ever replacing him." I tried to comfort him what little I could: "We felt that way about Lucky. Then, when the time was right, Luke came along." Cold comfort, to replace grief with delayed grief, but we have only one other choice: love nothing. Besides, the warehouse probably forbids pets.

A few minutes later, I saw Future Mark bend over stiffly to brush some leaves off a memorial plaque beneath a tree. Then, he passed us, staring straight ahead, his face at once rigid and fluid with grief. I knew his pain. I didn’t dare look at the name on that plaque.

Grief is the Price of Love

Lucky Dog died two years ago today, at 2:10pm. We miss him still, of course. I think we always will. He was a gift from the Universe and was with us during the very best times over 10 years.

It was a bad year for dogs close to home: Shy (Joe), Gracie (Earl & Marcia), and Kaboom (Paul) – all within a few blocks of here, all friends of Lucky. Survivors know that the end of our loved ones’ suffering is most important and outweighs our own pain in grief. Lucky suffered longer than, and more than, he should have, but we needed to be together as long as we could.

The Heaven of Animals

The meadow is his home now.
Up high in the mountains,
he lies in the shade
in a circle of trees
among the wild iris.

He yawns and stretches,
flips over
and rolls and rolls,
groaning in pleasure
in the tall sweet grass.

At any moment
he will sit up, alert,
ears sharp,
sniffing the air,
eyes intent on something
we can’t see
off under the trees.

His world is perfect now,
though I know he misses
the pats, the belly rubs,
the love in our voices:
lie down.
stay now.
good boy. mjh


I wrote this five years before Lucky Dog died, remembering a beautiful spot the three of us discovered. And, imagining the inevitable, I sobbed. This supports my hope that “any horror could be faced / and become a poem.”

mjh’s blog — Lucky Dog (8/11/09)

Death is the end

I’m an atheist. Among my friends, this isn’t controversial, even though most of them are not atheists. At one time, to be educated and a decent person, one was required to allow others to disagree and, as importantly, to consider that one could be wrong. These days, that attitude is considered weak: doubt is a despicable character flaw to many. Not so among my friends.

That said, I believe there is no god. I’m as certain as I can be.

Recently, I startled some friends with a different, but consistent, belief: there is no immortal soul. Death is the end of the individual. I am as certain as I can be.

The response from several people was “but you don’t (or “can’t”) know that.” While that is true, it doesn’t change my certainty. When I die, the atoms that make me physical will migrate. The energy that animates me will dissipate. That which makes me Mark Hinton will vanish. Yes, that makes me sad and angry. While that is true, it doesn’t change my certainty.

For the real me to survive death, my appreciation of irony must survive, as well. If we find ourselves together in the Hereafter, feel free to laugh at me. If you precede me in death, please haunt me. I’ll do the same for you. If it turns out I’m wrong, I owe you a Coke.

Not surprisingly, there’s not a lot of support for the view that there is nothing after death: it’s a serious downer. Absolute death runs counter to well-established traditions, even otherwise intellectual ones. If I were trying to win an argument, I might point out that many who believe in god or something after death do not value life as much as I do. But I’m not arguing, and I’m trying hard not to mock. Believe what you will. You can’t know for certain. There is no knowing – or anything else – after death. I’m as certain as I can be. Love life while you can.

Remembering My Dad

mjh0018My Dad died 40 years ago, 5/28/71. I had just turned 16 and we had just moved into a new house, a quirky fixer-upper that would become Pine Street in many memories.

Dad came home early that day in a cab, not feeling well. He went upstairs while I threw a ball against the back of the house for Barnabus, our St Bernard, to catch. The ball got slobberier and muddier with each iteration and a Pollack of brown spots broadened on the white stucco between windows on the second story. Those blotches stayed there for years. I heard a thunderous crash and ran inside to find my Dad prone on the landing where the stairs turned. He was unconscious but breathing. I tried to rouse him, then ran for the phone. I didn’t know what to do, so I called my sister, Elizabeth. (This was before 911.) She called emergency rescue. I sat on the steps near my Dad, listening to his last breaths. Rescue arrived too late to save him.

I remember when my friend Dave Stilwell came over the next day I said, in effect, if things seem weird around here today, it’s cuz my Dad just died. My first obituary.

My Dad was a farmboy who grew up to be an engineer and work for a series of communications companies, ending with Comsat. Mom loved to say it was his job to figure out the cost of the phone call between the President and the astronauts who first landed on the moon. By hobby, he was an excellent carpenter. Just this weekend, I saw a bench around a tree whose hexagonal design reminded me of a far-sturdier version he build for Mom years earlier. To this day, when I concentrate on certain chores, I whistle tunelessly just like he did.

Dad was a military man, proud of his service in Asia as part of the Army Corps of Engineers. He was a Colonel in the Army Reserves at death. Military service played a huge role in his largely-self-destruction. I have no affection for the War Machine. We need to outgrow the waste and destruction we celebrate too often.

I don’t remember crying when Dad died. We were unhappy with each other then. However, many years later, I wrote a letter to Dad, imagining he had outlived Mom and lived in Montana with dogs and a pickup truck. Then, I cried.

this simple truth

I wish the stories all were true
that we love to tell
and I could be again with you
in Heaven or in Hell.
That I could be again with you,
and all our friends as well,
would bring the greatest joy to me
in Heaven or in Hell.

But we all know this simple truth
that on this earth we dwell
in measured days of age and youth
not Heaven nor in Hell. mjh


For my Mom, who taught me language and love.

Listen to this simple truth

My Virtual Chapbook (table of contents)