I am going to die someday, and that is the bald honest truth. I have a finite life. I have an undetermined expiration date. Even if I am unaware of the exact time, I know I am going to that last great adventure alone.
How many of us die suddenly? How many of us leave behind a lot of unfinished business, our souls and families unprepared for this eventuality? It might seem pragmatic to you, but I would like to, at least, be able to have done all I can today, so that, if I should die and never wake up tomorrow, it’s going to be all right.
Death has been eating at my table for so long now, that I know it’s going to be all right.
I have had conversations with him, sat beside him, and learned to accept his presence. He has been coming and going within my circle quite busily these past few years. He’s gathered a few of my family and friends into his fold lately, so we have been visiting frequently. He is ever on my mind.
I cannot help but compare how the old country, where I was born, dealt with Death and how this new place I have come to deals with it. I have not met anyone here who feels comfortable about the subject of Death, and dying. I see a barrage of commercials on television that fights illnesses and prolongs life and extols youth, vigor and beauty. These commercials list the side effects, which are sometimes worse than what you are treating yourself for, but despite these side effects, well, as long as it prolongs life, that’s okay. But there has never been one advertisement about Death and going into the great beyond. I see life.
I see over-abundance and also mindless wastefulness.
It feels like living life in manic excess because there is no value for taking care of belongings or relationships, or service. I see this in everyday trash bins. I see perfectly good appliances or furniture being discarded hither thither. There is no reverence for the usefulness and service of something or someone. I see this in traffic crossroads where everyone wants to be the first to go thru after the light turns green. I see endless mindless toil for revenue and personal income and luxuries. I see and hear people speak of Death in hushed tones, sometimes completely denying its eventuality, that it will bring Death to the company you keep these conversations with. And yet, there are less smiles, less common courtesies, less tolerance and less concern for the welfare of our neighbor.
Their funerals are cold and solemn and sad.
In the old country, Death was not a taboo topic. Death is an accepted fact of life to be dealt with and handled. We even have commercials about where you can eventually lay your loved ones’ bodies to rest. We do not talk about it in hushed tones behind closed doors. We talk about it while we are still hale and hearty. We talk about it, consider its eventuality, express our aspirations and goals like it was a shopping trip to the mall. We had a list.
How many of us remember talking about it with our parents? Where do they want to be buried? How do they want the ceremony? How to dispose of or handle affairs they used to do for us? What do we do with this or that when they are not going to be here anymore? It is more courteous and considerate to be able to smooth out the kinks incurred by the eventuality of dying before we do expire. I’ve met a few such people. They laid out their plans for their burial, their wardrobe, the budget, their wills and testaments, even wrote their own eulogy and last requests. It felt like project planning the future without them.
The funerals were warm, comforting, and would you believe it, at times, even funny.
And in the end, their passing into Death’s door was as smooth as living man could make it. Everyone remembered the good times, smiled at the memories of their loved ones and cherished a done life well-loved and lived. Death exists, and in acknowledging his existence, he becomes familiar. Sometimes, almost comforting.
When Death became my neighbor and shadow, I have found that there is more forgiveness, more tolerance and understanding, more Love. People are more considerate of others, more concerned, and people smile more. There is an ever-present air of reverence and thankfulness towards people; their acts and also things.We don’t just throw away perfectly good things. We find a new home for them, keep them safely until they can be used again or retired, or we pass them on to someone who might need them more and treat them with respect. We remember to say thank you, I love you, I’m sorry, forgive me.
Perhaps this is the way it should be: To be aware of Death’s hovering presence all the time makes us become better human beings. Perhaps if this were the case all the time, we would be basing our actions and intentions on Love, on being remembered in a good way, on leaving a good memory for others to cherish when He comes for us. We are going to die someday. We all have a standing invitation for Death to visit 24/7. One of these days, he’s going to come knocking on our door.
Knowing the certainty and ephemeral nature of our life brings me peace.
It helps me focus on what is most important to me. It is important to me to see everything with a fresh eye and an open heart. It is important to me to speak with another person with respect and joy, not condescension or rudeness. It is important to me to act from a sincere intention based on love, and to question my motives behind my actions when I feel unsure or ambiguous. Knowing that I am going to die someday helps me become the best person I can be to others everyday. I want to keep my house clean and almost ready for visitors and friends, especially because Death always serves up a doozy and pays a surprise visit.
Aikidoka and author George Leonard puts it this way: “ As a Modern Samurai, you know the sword is raised. To step aside when it comes down on you, you’ll need to be clear and present, to have no regrets or other considerations. And when the moment eventually arrives that you can no longer step aside—as it must –you can meet your death as a samurai, with no regrets.” I have come to face my mortality embracing life and valuing it everyday.
I have come to know that even with our finite existence, we have the power to touch other people’s lives. I am alive, and then I will die. And in death, I will become a memory and in a way, despite dying, be able to live forever.
(Please also see: “The Sword of the Tongue“)