Skeletons at the Feast

December 12th, 2011 § 0 comments

I had never heard this expression used before and only vaguely understood what it meant. As I read through Chris Bohjalian’s novel, which shares the title of this entry (and is the inspiration for this as well), it became clearer what it could mean.


1. skeleton at the feast, a person or thing that casts gloom over a joyful occasion; a note or reminder of sorrow in the midst of joy.

Everything around us, is a sort of skeleton at the feast. Now that the world is vastly connected. Poverty stricken countries are reminders of the richer ones. The death toll of a calamity reminds us of the survivors.  The crazy chatter of unsubstantial gossip about celebrities from all corners of the world adds to a priceless flood of other, more useful information. We now have access to an ever-replenishing library, that people once, could only imagine. Or perhaps I am alone in seeing the world this way. That despite the happiness (and allowing myself to feel the happiness), there are always little reminders of sorrows.

I finally finished this novel. You can tell by the way the perspectives of the characters were written that it was written carefully and sure enough, when I reached the acknowledgements, I learned that the book had been inspired by a real diary, and guided along by a few other books used as reference. I needed time with this one. Less time than I needed with The Information (which felt like I was swallowing ten courses in one go, without chewing, but it was nonetheless a satisfying meal). But I needed time nonetheless. Whenever I came across a passage or chapter that demonstrated the possible array of human brutality in desperate situations, I am reminded how in my twenty-three years on earth, and on my little island country, I have not yet needed to feel such a thing. I wonder if I ever would but hope that I would never have to.

Illustration by Greg Harlin

Packed with blackened tortoise shells, an ancient shaman's grave may be evidence of early feasting. Illustration by Greg Harlin.

Survival has evolved into such a different word from how it meant during the World Wars. Even back when we were hunting and gathering, Survival had only one definition and that meant to stay alive. Now, it comes in different shapes. Sometimes it’s synonymous to making money, other times it means fitting in. Lately, I notice that it means finding someone who cares enough about you as you would in turn, care about them so that you have someone to survive with. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a romantic partner, but it seems that this is what many have chosen to look for.

The world is getting smaller, but I think as much as possible, we still have to try and survive it as a group or as it was once known, a tribe. The people in my (ideal and selfish) tribe, are my close friends, and they are scattered all over the world. I’ve been trying to reach out to them individually with the intention that they each feel less lonely and disappointed, whenever skeletons appear at their feast.

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