Coffin Corners

In the houses of new England, where the steep and narrow staircases turned at the landing, they often built niches into the walls so coffins being carried down the stairs could easily make the turn. Death at home, in bed, was a fact of life no less than cooking in kettles hung over a kitchen fire and sleeping in unheated rooms. Passing a coffin corner on your way downstairs to breakfast every morning would have been an unremarkable reminder of what daily life told you in myriad ways, that life is brief and death is inseparable from the day to day experience of life. Mexico’s day of the dead makes the same point with a twist of mordant humor thrown in. In the USA of the 21st century maybe we fear death so because we have lost our friendship with it.

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