A friend, her Emmy nom, and the afterlife

Train to NowhereI’ve discovered that my friend Colleen Bradford Krantz and her colleague, Paul Kakert (who is from my hometown!) have had their documentary film, Train to Nowhere, nominated for a regional Emmy.

I’m so proud of them, but not really for the recognition from the awards people. More than that, I am proud of Colleen and Paul for all the hard work they did to to tell the story of these forgotten immigrants.

I think sometimes it is easy to imagine dead things as just that — things. As if somehow, the moment something dies, all its history and humanity goes with it.

Today, Isaiah asked me:

“Mom when we die, do our bodies explode?”

I said: “No, our bodies decompose. That’s like what happens to the food bits we put in the compost.”

“So, we rot?” he asked, not particularly freaked out.

“Yes, kind of. Our bodies break down and turn to back to dirt, like the food in the compost does,” I said. “But the important part of us, our soul, that’s the REAL us. It isn’t in our bodies. It leaves our body when we die.”

“What happens to that?”

I explained to him that we don’t really know. I gave him the short list of ¬†possibilities: Heaven, reincarnation, and just stopping.

“I choose reincarnation. I’d like to be a bear or something,” he said. “Or a baby again.”

What was inside the railcar was just the explosion of those 11 lives. It was just the thing we see after death.

What was missing was all stories of the human lives that reminded us they were not just things, but people.

The soul is a string of memories, in some ways, a compilation of the thousand kindnesses we do, the funny things we say to our parents when we were 6. Our quirks and our passionate entanglements.

Decomposed immigrant skeletons in a rail car once knew mighty love too.

Colleen and Paul did good work — in the book and the film — reminding us that all the little tragedies that flash by us in the news and in life are their own kind of tragedy … because of the beautiful humanity they hold within them. Millions of stories heaving to be heard.

Each is a story holding all the dreams and heartbeats of someone.

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