“I was merely present, perhaps for the first time in my adult life. The moment was unextraordinary. But I had the moment, I had it completely. It inhabited me. I realized that if I died soon I would have known this, a connection with my life, its errors and cockeyed successes. I would not die unfulfilled because I’d been here, right here and nowhere else.”
Michael Cunningham – A Home at the End of the World
I may die today.
A sobering thought, but a necessary one.
One of the things that Freud said was that so many of our problems and our inability to live, stem from the belief that we will never die because we think we have forever. We have fallen into the trap of leaving things until tomorrow, seeing it as a given – an entitlement – but the stark reality is that tomorrow is a gift that some of us will have the good fortune of receiving, while others of us will not.
Buddhism encourages me to meditate frequently on “I may die today.” To put myself in this acknowledgement, to look at it inside and out, back to front, until it has been integrated into my mindfulness. Otherwise I am at risk of allowing life to pass me by, while allowing the scope of my life to grow narrow as I grow old.
I have the good fortune of being in the same community as a woman that has taken this to heart. Steph turned 70 last week. Her children asked her how she wanted to celebrate this milestone and she told them that she would like to go skydiving. I was blown away when I heard about her plans. I then found out that her 73 year old husband, in spite of having a phobia of heights, would be doing it with her. He interrupted our conversation and explained that he has shared every big moment in her life for the past 46 years and that he was unwilling to allow anything to stand in his way of being a part of this one. I felt a lump work its way out of my heart and lodge itself in my throat.
I saw her at our weekly meditation class this past Tuesday night and couldn’t wait to get the scoop. “It was amazing!” she gushed. This is one of the things that I like and admire about her. She gushes about life. When I look at Steph I see a precocious five year old girl, who is mesmerised and excited by life, by being alive. My enquiry eventually led to her sharing about some of the other things that she has done, which includes going to Antarctica and swimming with dolphins.
Then I asked her what she had planned for her next milestone. “I may die today, so I haven’t looked that far,” she replied, “but if I am fortunate enough to see it, I can tell you that it is going to be much cooler than this.” This woman inspires me!
I am realising more and more that death is a continuous beautiful process of life. Death is a good friend, an awfully good friend, because it tells us we don’t have forever and that to live is now; it helps us to see how precious every minute is.
Death teaches us – if we are willing to hear it – that nothing is permanent. It teaches us the joy of the moment and that we don’t have forever. It teaches us to let go because there’s nothing for us to hang on to. And it tells us to give up on expectations and let tomorrow tell its own story, because nobody knows if they’ll get home tonight. To me that’s a tremendous challenge. Death says, “Live now!”
May we develop a deeper awareness of the impermanence of life and may it lead to a heightened appreciation for being in this world right here, right now, at this very moment. May we use every precious moment to develop a felt connection with ourselves, with each other and with this planet. And may we spread ourselves across the fabric of this life, feeling our way right to the very hemmed edges of it.
May we risk.
May we love.
But more than this, may we LIVE!!!
“What are you going to do with this one wild precious life?”
~ Mary Oliver