The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia
23 December 2008
Death the revelator
With its bare trees, long, cold nights, memories of Christmases past, and avalanche of holiday cards bearing good and bad news, late December is a dark and bittersweet time.
I hesitate opening the Christmas cards. They may contain good news about a marriage or a new baby. But as we get older, they more often contain bad news about someone who is fatally ill or has died.
Yesterday I opened a padded envelope to find a CD and a note from the wife of a friend who died eight years ago. Our friend was a music editor and composer, and the CD was a recording of some of his chamber music—but not any of the music he was known to have composed.
And so I learned a 30-year-old secret. I had played the very pieces on the CD, but the publisher had attributed them to an obscure German composer of the 1800s. The printed music contained a long description of the discovery of the pieces, a bio of the composer, and commentary on the pieces themselves, all written by the editor, who happened to be our friend.
Our friend’s wife had now chosen to reveal to a few people that our friend had written the music himself in what became an elaborate practical joke on his publisher.
I’m leaving out the entertaining—and identifying—details to keep the secret going. But after a few minutes of sadness that our friend had died so young, I listened to the CD with great pleasure, happy to have a new memory of him and to be in on the joke at last.
After my father died last February, my stepmother revealed to my siblings and me that my father, too, had had a secret: He could use a computer. In fact, he even had a PayPal account and bid on things on eBay.
The four of us were flabbergasted. My father rarely cussed, but when he did, it usually was about the computer he had been forced to have at work (and which precipitated his retirement). He hated the things and vehemently rejected all our offers to help him become computer savvy. We learned to stop offering.
Apparently as the years passed, he realized it would be useful to check his investments and do other things online. Too embarrassed to admit to his kids that he wanted to learn to use a computer after all, he swore our stepbrother and stepmother to secrecy, and they got him up to speed.
After getting over our shock, my siblings and I had a good laugh and another good memory of our father to savor.
Do you have any secrets that when you are gone will entertain your family and friends and ease their grief?