In many cultures both now and in ancient times a pyre was a structure, usually made of wood, for burning a body as part of a funeral rite or execution. As a form of cremation, a body is placed upon or under the pyre, which is then set on fire.
My best friend and I used to love to pretend we were gladiators. And when one of us would die in battle the other would then build a pyre and pretend to give last rites to the fallen champion. Of course our pyres were made of pillows, and there was no fire, but we understood the principle. It was difficult to imagine what a real funeral pyre was like but we both thought it was an excellent way to show respect to a fallen comrade.
Matt liked the outdoors a lot. He joined lots of nature groups and participated in many camping, climbing, and hiking activities. He was, in many ways the gladiator we pretended to be as children.
When we got ready to go to high school, he moved away. I still talked to him every weekend and occasionally we were able to hang out but as we got more into school our interests and our activities changed.
I was shocked to hear one day that Matt had fallen in a hiking accident in the mountains and they had been unable to locate him. They didn’t know if he was alive or dead.
On Saturday I was at home with my family and made a strange request to my mother and father. I would like to build a pyre in dedication to Matt. I used my father’s barbecue pit which he lined with fire logs and he put coals in the center to create a good heat. I brought all of the things we had loved as boys; our wooden swords, the gladiator shields we had made from cardboard and decorated with painted macaroni noodles, and contributed by my parents several of the largest pure beef sausages I had ever seen.
At first I thought they were making a joke of the whole thing then my father explained. “Matt had loved the outdoors and he would want for us to remember him through the things he loved. He would want this pyre to be a celebration of his life, for you to honor his memory as if he were a gladiator still.”
I tossed our old weapons into the fire and ate the smoky grilled meat with relish. I wished my friend Godspeed and hoped they would find him soon. That night alone in my room real tears covered my pillow. He had been my best friend.
In the weeks to come I awaited the news. Hope encouraged me to continue to believe it was possible for him to survive, but if he hadn’t I had made my peace with it.
Matt was never found.
I went on to college, graduated and went out into the world. I went on to do all of the things we dreamed about, talked about, and planned for in our youth. As an adult I tell myself still that I am a gladiator, and fight day to day for survival. I pluck up the courage to battle against inequity, to fight against wrong doing, and to save the beautiful things left on the planet, despite the fact the differences I may have with those around me. And whenever I smell barbecue or taste a smoky grilled sausage, I think of Matt.
In memory of all gladiators, warriors and heroes for whom the stories are not always written but are often told. May a pyre be lit in memory of their deeds and burn as a testament to their indomitable spirits. Lest we forget that the world in which we live continues to exist because of the contributions of those who have fought and often died to save the things that are of value to all human beings.
Raise a pyre in memory of those who have been lost, but will never be forgotten.
The Pyre © DJuna Blackmon 2014, All Rights Reserved