Lynn Miles’ ad hoc ceremony before his cremation on the morning of Saturday, June 13, was colorful and crowded with friends and political figures and media people. Originally when he died in the early hours of June 8 (1:30 am Monday), I thought that since we had already had his (in effect) farewell party/PeaceFest the previous weekend on May 30-31, and he had been visited by DPP presidential candidate Tsai Ying-wen, mayor of Kaohsiung Chen Chu; his ex-wife Sachiko and daughters Sally and Kelly as well as brother’s wife Atsuko; and then by human rights colleagues Miyake Kyoko and Watarida on Thursday the day before he became incoherent — he could rest in peace knowing that he had been fully acknowledged and celebrated.
So in the morning when a small group of visitors, Miyake and Watarida among them, accompanied him and me down to the basement morgue of the Tzu Chi Buddhist Compassion hospital, I requested just the minimal funeral accommodations for quick cremation, and even insisted on a coffin simpler and cheaper than their catalog offerings. Little did I know that a new snowball effect was rapidly rolling down the slope and I was in its path.
Every friend and media started calling me up, and I soon realized that I could not discourage a public outpouring. The previous visits by Chen Chu and Tsai Ying-wen had already made Lynn a public icon of the struggle against martial law, and with Tsai poised to be the next president and taking on the mantle of the DPP as the inheritors of the 1978/79 democratic movement, the ball was rolling. But the room reserved was just about 10 x 15 feet, and it was not possible to get a bigger one for the date of June 13, Saturday.
As it evolved, the DPP offered to pay for the flowers, and I chose sunflowers since they are the emblem of the 318 student movement last year, in which Lynn got indicted for his foray into the Executive Yuan on 323. Then I went to work finding photos of Lynn for the media people to use, as well as preparation for a documentary, and went through his two computers on hand. Suddenly a picture of him climbing a cliff, hanging by ropes, with a devil-may-care smile of exhilaration, popped out of his Mac. Other images from PeaceFests of past years showed him grinning through mud and dancing crazily in purple light. So I figured I had struck gold for a very lively funeral, and made up big posters, 20 of them. Then we had the documentary made by Wu Dungmu of the farewell weekend, Lynn happy in his wheelchair in the middle of a circle of dancing friends, and I ordered a big screen monitor (which gave the funeral company the opportunity to take back what I had scraped off the coffin cost).
Lynn’s cousin Miles Odonnol agreed to bring along his autoharp, and I recruited Big Nick Z who said he would play the didgeridoo. I just had to keep saying no, no, no, to all the funeral company’s suggestions for their choreographed announcers and pall bearers. Then on Friday afternoon I heard to my surprise that the presidential candidate for the DPP, Tsai Ying-wen, had put visiting our little cremation ceremony, 8:30-9:30 am, on her itinerary, and I knew it would be a media circus.
I stayed up all night taping wooden slats onto the backs of the posters, so that hopefully they could be put up quickly and not be destroyed by taping the posters directly to the walls. Fat chance. When I got to the crematory at 7:45 am, reporters and a dozen people who came to help were milling around anxiously. There was no place in the tiny room to anchor a wire to hang posters. But finally the posters were all fixed in place with double-backed tape. (In my sleep-deprived state, I had put the slats on several of them upsidedown.) The sunflower arrangements were beautiful and stood high. I took the “Tsai Ying-wen” labels off the flowers at the front; that was too blatant. A friend of Lynn’s wanted to put up Taiwan Independence and Tibetan Independence flags right at the front, but I vetoed that also; Lynn always insisted that he was working for human rights on principle, not Taiwan independence. The flags went outside.
The funeral officiators took me to view Lynn’s body and confirm the identity. I was relieved that he didn’t look much different from when we dressed him in the early hours Monday — khaki pants, yellow PeaceFest T-shirt over red long sleeves, sand-colored angler’s vest with lots of pockets (a vest that I had given him a few months ago, already much worn and then thoroughly scrubbed; in the pockets, old wallet with its new NT$200 bill and tattered cover of his iPhone with faded Sunflower Movement sticker), light khaki pants. The indigenous-design red cotton bag that he loved so much because it just exactly fit his new Mac computer over his shoulder. Ready for a safari. Also a T-shirt with bright emblem of globe and peace symbol folded over his knees. But we didn’t have any shoes for him at the hospital, and although Nikko who was holding Lynn’s arm when he died was able to squeeze Lynn’s feet into the Chinese black cloth shoes the nurses found, it was clear the toes were pinched. After Lynn was in the coffin, just barely able to fit, I tried to put the old comfortable leather loafers on him, but he was frozen solid and I could only lay them on top of his feet, for use in the afterlife.
Finally we were organized for the mass of visitors to take a last glimpse of Lynn and say a few words to his silent ears. I told Kylie, the strange beautiful woman who had an unexplained fixation on Lynn, to sit at the head of the coffin and dab the drops of water that were condensing on his face; engrossed in the task and her silent grief, she looked like a Greek goddess of mourning, with only the deep burn scars on her hands — a botched suicide attempt –betraying her troubled past and Lynn’s sympathies. At the head on the left side of the coffin against the wall, I was the social representative that cheerfully shook hands; Lynn had died a good death. To my right was Hsieh Tsung-min, Roger in English, who penned the Declaration of Taiwanese Self-Determination in 1964, and who was undergoing severe torture in 1971; it suddenly ended when his plight reached international news, thanks to Lynn. Next to him was “Golden Lion” Liu Chin-shih, ten years served in the same case with Shih Ming-deh; Liu founded the main political prisoners association. Both are in their eighties.
The light strumming of an autoharp in the left corner pleased several visitors; Miles Odonnol, Lynn’s cousin and also over two decades in Taiwan, held the instrument. Later he was overcome with tears and ducked behind my back to hide it. Later Big Nick arrived, and his colorfully painted didgeridoo extended halfway across the small room, while its low timbre resonated. At the head center, the screen played scenes of Lynn talking, the goodbye party, and hearty friends, and he seemed alive in spirit rather than dead and lying there cold. There was barely enough room for the stream of mourners to make a slow circuit around the coffin and exit; the scene seemed planned, though it wasn’t. Cans of beer were distributed and doffed in honor of the departed; glasses of cold beer at the head table under the screen allowed the spirit to imbibe as well. At the end, in another impromptu gesture, the mourners placed sunflowers around Lynn’s long body, to be burned together with copies of A Borrowed Voice (the book we co-authored), Volumes 2 and 3 of his collected human rights smuggling papers as published by the Wu San Lien Foundation, and a book that he was deeply engaged in for some project, The Stone Monkey: An Alternative, Chinese Scientific, Reality, by Bruce Holbrook. Letters brought by Miyake-san from Japan and other notes from well-wishers accompanied him to the afterlife as well.
The stream of mourners, fifty or so, had already tapered off when presidential candidate of the DPP Tsai Ying-wen arrived. As usual, she was dressed in her trademark casual garb: jeans, a white shirt and a black jacket. A bank of reporters filmed her every move with popping lights, while she paid her respects to Lynn with a glass of beer, and patted his cold hand. One caught her looking at the screen at the moment the Lynn raised his arms in the PeaceFest circle. The corner of the shot caught as well the poster with the 1991 reunion photo of Linda, Miyake, Chen Chu, and Lynn with a full dark beard.
At about 9:40 am, Nikko Cheng played the role of a Chinese son, sealing the lid of the coffin. I placed over the coffin a large square of transparent plastic printed with bright sunflowers; it had come off our kitchen table, I bought it last month because Lynn did not want his nice round bare wood table stained or watermarked, but I objected to his habit of covering it with newspaper. Despite his contrarian ways, Lynn was pleased with seeing both the wood grain and the sunflowers as he drank the fresh vegetable and fruit juice prepared every few days by Miles. It was a long walk and a lengthy process to send Lynn’s earthly remains through the incinerator. About fifteen people remained through it, including Sean Kaiteri who wanted some ashes, and his three children who pressed up against the counter to see the tray of knobs of bones before they were crushed to sand. (His eldest step daughter, Julie, had penned the cartoon of Lynn that I found on the hospital side table the day before he died. Val Crawford got it scanned right away, and I reproduced it on a poster.) Miles spooned the ashes into a large urn – actually a fancy ceramic tea canister that I had found in March when cleaning Lynn’s musty place in a 50-year-old row of military dependants’ housing in Lungtan, Taoyuan. I felt Lynn should be pleased with reuse, recycle. Small portions of ashes went into ten tiny unpainted wooden boxes (shaped rather like traditional Japanese bone boxes) that Miles had found and neatly labeled, some destined to go to Kelly and Sally and Lynn’s remaining brother Martin, and some to be sprinkled at Wufeng where one of the PeaceFests had been held, and one to be taken to Tibet.
In the aftermath an hour later, I waited with a photographer friend under the hot sun with ashes from the paper money incinerators raining down, while Miles loaded his car. I was able to persuade two friends there to immediately go to the stream where the farewell party had been held May 30-31 in a small valley outside Shiding; Lynn went with us in the urn. We bought some munchies at the old tourist street, changed into bathing suits, and climbed down into the pool of rounded stones surrounded by two small waterfalls and verdant ferns. The water was refreshingly chilly. That was the place I was thinking of, when, near the end, I described it several times over to Lynn, by then only semi-conscious, and told him that after he slipped into the cool water under sunshine shimmering through the tree leaves, he could rise up into the sky and cross the rainbow – invoking the myth of Taiwan indigenous warriors that they cross the rainbow and meet their departed loved ones on the other side.
Linda, I feel like I know you. I went to college with Lynn at Central Methodist, Fayette, MO, USA in 1961-2. We were activists and co-conspariters from the beginning. Lynn inspired me to travel to Taiwan in 1965. I taught English at Tunghai Universtiy in Taichung from 65-68. Lynn introduced me to Li Ao, author and activist. Please contact me at my email or my partner’s Face Book page: Don Thomann, friend of Diane Riggs. Diane is Richard Riggs’ widow. We are all old friends of Lynn. Can you help me get in touch with Miles Odonnol and Ian Rowan? Peace and Love, David, aka Wu Teh Wei.
To David Chadd Witwer
Only now mid-August have I happened to see your message!
My e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.
I want to hear more about your early experience with Lynn. We want to write a biography for him. Linda Gail Arrigo