Oft quoted phrase from the burial rites in the Book of Common Prayer used by some churches. "...We commit his body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust."

They said, "God made us in his image"
And it's in God they will trust
When asked about the men that had died by their hands
They said, "Ashes to ashes and dust to dust"
Even before Steve Earle's September 2002 studio release, Jerusalem, hit the shelves it was garnering attention - most all of it negative. As the one-year anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks approached, Earle defied Nashville's ultra-patriotic, Proud to Be an American climate by including the song John Walker's Blues on Jerusalem.

While the usual litany of rightwing pundits and organizations took exception to Earle's attempt to understand John Walker Lindh, few apparently listened to the other songs on Jerusalem. If they had, Earle would have been attacked even more vigorously. Amerika v 6.0 and Ashes to Ashes contain far more critical comments of the United States than can be found in John Walker's Blues.

While Amerika v 6.0 is a blatant leftist indictment of what the United States has become, Ashes to Ashes is more subtle, but reads as an indictment of the entire human race. It interweaves biblical references, scientific theories, and current events - creating verses that can be read several different ways.

Earle takes us through the extinction of the dinosaurs to man's eventual evolution and rise to the top of the foodchain. Yet Earle views this as a triumph for murder, arrogance, and disregard; likening man to a plague infesting the earth.

And that every tower ever built tumbles
No matter how strong - no matter how tall
Someday even great walls crumble
An' every idol ever raised falls
The last few lines hold obvious references to the tower of Babel and the World Trade Center. One is forced to ponder whether Earle's criticisms are pointed at humankind in general or America in particular.

Country music has never been a comfortable home for protest songs or counter-culture views. Steve Earle has once again disregarded the Nashville party-line and Ashes to Ashes is one of the results.

Someday even man's best laid plans
Will lie twisted and covered in rust
We've done all that we can but it slipped through our hands
And it's ashes to ashes and dust to dust

Start Again

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Michael Terrance Smith
December 2, 1905 - April 6, 1985
Beloved Husband and Father

A quiet walk through the graveyard, perhaps to visit the final resting place of the body that once belonged to a loved one will bring you past dozens of empty headstones. They may mean something to someone else, or perhaps they no longer hold meaning to anyone who walks amongst us. Those who walked beside them now lie in the ground as well, or perhaps they just stopped remembering. Maybe they remember what once was. They have travelled away from the graveyard and it no longer makes sense to make the journey to see a patch of ground and a stone with some writing scrawled upon it.

Is it the death of the body or the death of moments receding into memory that impacts us the most. Is the death of the body merely a farewell to the construction of future moments, the possibility of reconciliation, and the chance to say and do what we tend to put off until tomorrow? Future construction lies within the interpretation of what we believed was possible and the degree to which we valued what the deceased individual added to our existence here. Yet, it is not an ending. It is merely another change.

When we value what another adds to our life and the lives of others around us, their passing tends to make us angry or sad. Why did they have to leave us so soon? I remember once watching someone blubber on about how grandpa should have taken better care of himself so he would live longer and that his lifestyle was selfish because his grandchildren didn't get to know him very well and now his great-grandchildren will never know him. I've filed the memory of that under "crock."

With the exception of taking responsibility for raising the children one brings into this world, no one who lives has the "responsibility" to live to satisfy the needs of another human being. One must choose a lifestyle that fits and that one can gain some measure of enjoyment and satisfaction from. Grandpa liked his whiskey, smoked cigars and relished spicy food. To get an additional ten years out of him, his family would had liked him to stop drinking, smoking and go on a diet. Grandpa's enjoyment of life wasn't a consideration.

Nothing stays the same.

People these days seem to have two obsessions. The first is with things staying as they are to preserve the continuity. The second is to make certain one lives as long as possible.

I find it difficult to understand the relevancy of either of these so-called goals. What does continuity achieve? What does one achieve by extending one's life at the expense of enjoyment of one's life? This is not to say one needs to live on the edge, doing things one knows can be harmful to one's health. There are simply too many people living via careful use of the measuring cup rather than diving into the reservoir of life. We are handcuffing ourselves through a "should system" that others impose upon us. We watch television and read magazines to find out what is "bad" and what is "good" in the same way we watch television and read magazines to find out what is "cool" and what is "out."

People stay in relationships for years after the reasons for the relationship have died and gone cold. They cite responsibility and the need for continuity. "What else would I do?" they tell you. They are too afraid to venture out into unexplored territory. They are strong inside, but they have allowed themselves to become weak. If they extend their lives beyond the normal schedule, then perhaps they will get more out of life, but they stay warm in their holes embracing their own unhappiness.

People fight change at their jobs, in their neighborhoods and in their social circles. "This is the way it has always been, what right do you have to change it?" How long does it need to stay the way it always has been? Just because everything seemed okay last month doesn't mean things need to stop evolving. We embrace stagnation because we see it as stability. We greet change as if it is chaos raising its ugly head into view and mocking us. We have gone soft. These aren't human beings I see around me. They are soft-serve ice cream cones melting in the sun.

People don't want their children exposed to bad things. They want them to grow up to see life as daisies and sunshine and Disney. They have great intentions, but in modern times, the overprotective parents coupled with the misguided belief that people are more evil now than they ever were, have produced young adults unable to deal with adversity without medication.

You don't learn much of anything the easy way.

I remember being a teenager and how I felt that all things could be reasoned to a logical and correct conclusion through careful study and deduction. There were ways to correct the mistakes of the past by being more judicious in our choices, as individuals or as a collective reality. Later I would learn, the hard way, that you don't understand anything or anyone until you've walked several miles in their muddiest boots.

Choose a life you enjoy.
Embrace beliefs that have value to you.
Follow your own path.
Blaze your own trail.
Ignore the noise.
Thank others, but do not obey them.
Give everything you can to everyone you know.
See life.
Be life.
Jump right in.
If you are afraid to drown,
You'll spend the rest of time treading water.

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