Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Urns To Die For - by Sybil Sage

"Would you rather be buried or cremated?" is a question some of us are asked more frequently than "Want to get it on?" so I've been reflecting on it. The problem was less about the how than the what. The truth is I want to stick around, which isn't always an option. The closest one gets is being the last one standing on "American Idol."

In a recent special, Barbara Walters and other A-listers who'd had open heart surgery -- David Letterman, Charlie Rose, Bill Clinton and Regis Philbin -- admitted the experience had forced them to confront their mortality and recognize that the good table reserved for them will one day be on the other side, where Elaine Kaufman has probably edged out St. Peter and is directing traffic.

It's clear that we're all going to die and can't take our Sleep Number beds with us. Though I have friends who've been diagnosed with control issues, I'm the only one who's created her own cremation urn. To future generations, I won't be reduced to "beloved daughter, sister, wife, mother" (and perhaps "bubby"), as they will see photos of me on a beautiful mosaic urn -- beaming at our son's graduations, admiring a Buddhist temple and hiking in Costa Rica (with nothing to suggest that I turned back after four minutes). I embedded only flattering photos and used our dinnerware so the pattern, if not my face, will be familiar to our son.

With the growing popularity of cremation, it was clear that others would be excited to have an urn like this. Though it aired decades ago, I've never forgotten the memorable Barney's commercial (when Barney and the writer of the ad, Steve Gordon, were going strong). Young boys sitting on a stoop were answering the question, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" Each kid took his turn, expressing a lofty aspiration. The spot ended with Barney shrugging, "I don't know, but they're all going to need clothes."

That brings me to my online mosaic art boutique (, where along with other functional art, there are now urns, the Et URN ity and Pet URN ity. These are done on a commission basis. The client chooses the colors and provides photos that I re-size and mount onto clear glass, integrating them as well as other personal items (a business card, final Twitter update, signature, etc.) onto a metal urn. They can be ordered in advance by those who demand photo approval, or when needed.

Seeing what I'd done, a friend gasped, "Those urns are to die for!!"

Saturday, January 8, 2011

"He's Just Not That Into You"

"He's just not that into you," is what friends must be thinking about the one-sided, dysfunctional relationship I can't seem to break off. I, too, find it pathetic that I grovel for attention, hoping for a shout out or an inadvertent butt call from a cell phone, anything to suggest that I'm on God's buddy list.

I can't ascribe the fascination to chemistry. If God has made me tremble, it's because of fear, not foreplay. I'm the one repeatedly begging for forgiveness, never hearing, "No, this was my bad." My role is to be righteous while God gets to be self-righteous. And regardless of how I try to please, I get less face time than a friend with benefits.

The stories about God are awesome, and the message is unmistakable: "Play around, God forbid, with others and you'll pay." As with any long relationship, the stories become familiar and you want to scream, "Enough already with the omnipotence!" I tried to get past the narcissism to keep our standing date, usually from Friday night through Saturday at sundown. But did God ever surprise me with dinner reservations or a concert? No, it was up to me to make the plans. Did God ever ask, "This week, let's hear what vengeance you've wrought?" Though everything was about God, I was expected to believe that God had my back.

In my teen years, I got the idea to test God by doing something forbidden. I'd risk incurring God's wrath to see what would happen. Shortly after I ate an unkosher cheeseburger, Hurricane Carol took a turn and started heading in our direction. Everyone west of the George Washington Bridge was about to pay for my transgression. Our homes would be washed away and we'd be forced into exile, wandering in the Pocono Mountains for forty years. Luckily, the Amish and Quakers aren't as oppressive as the Egyptians. It appeared that the storm was coming to prove to me that God exists. I hoped to get forgiven, after which I'd play by the rules. But northern New Jersey was spared; it was the southern coastal towns that took the hit. Maybe someone from Seaside Heights had pissed off God more than I had. My plan didn't pan out.

Still single in my late 30's, it occurred to me that God might have felt a storm, even a major one, wasn't personal enough and that God was firing back at me by having me remain single forever. Now I was praying in earnest. "Look, I'm sorry I offended you, but haven't I done enough atoning? Every Yom Kippur I'm the one in the seat behind the plaque donated by the Glassman family, fasting and hoping to see your compassionate side. Come on, already, give me a break. I want a husband, one of my own, not those guys who think of marriage as a time share.

A close friend who was on a liquid protein diet called. "I'm invited to a dinner party and I asked to bring you as my designated eater." I went along, had two portions of veal stew made by the man who would later become my husband. My getting married at the age of 38, to my family and most of my single girlfriends, was more of a miracle than any burning bush. Overcoming multiple fertility problems to give birth at the age of 41? Better than the parting of the Red Sea. Okay, I wasn't as old as Sarah, and I did get help from a team of fertility experts, but this is the story God should want in the Bible. The Book of Sybil would do a lot to boost God's PR. God could be the new Mark Zuckerberg. (And, by the way, God, it looks as if he's getting rewarded big time despite helping himself to his Harvard neighbors' idea.)

Were my prayers answered? An argument could be made that they were, but it's hard to distinguish religion from coincidence. It's not impossible that the value of believing and praying is the placebo effect. I'm still waiting for a sign. I know we're not allowed to see God, but how about a blog?