Last week, thinking about Vicki, we hosted a movie here called Zen and the Art of Dying. It reaffirmed for me the possibility of a beautiful life making death. Helped me to turn my gaze a little closer to lady death and nod to her there, some way off in my future. Seeing her presence helps make me live a little deeper and it made me reflect on the gifts of knowing her proximity.
When we live in and comply with an overculture which teaches us that death is a distasteful something best avoided in both experience and conversation. When it is someone else's job to tend to the dying, and their bodies and the way they are farewelled, we cheat ourselves out of the truth that to live is also, inevitably to die.
"...nothing can said to be certain except death and taxes." Benjamin Franklin
We all kind of doff our caps to death, knowing she is there, but we'd cross the street and get busy with our phones/work/achievements etc. etc. rather than look her in the eye.
There are, i think, many losses associated with this avoidance of death.
We lose the focus that a dead-line (see what i did there?) to our life provides. Our lack of death knowledge kind of numbs us or anaesthetises us to the finite nature of things. But if we know, not just intellectually but down into our guts; body and soul, that we have limited time we allow that to galvanise us into our truth and our desires and we are more likely to step up and LIVE.
We LIVE when we know we are going to, one day, die. We don't fritter our time away. We don't waste our time. We cherish our existence.
As individuals there is something about death that in many cases, melts away that which is not linked to beauty and Love and purpose. We get real. Shit gets real.
On a cultural level i think there is an echo of that anaesthetising which our patriarchal overculture puts to use.
"All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances..." William Shakespeare; As You Like It.
When we don't hold death and endings as an immutable truth, we act as if we can take what we want, act as we see fit from our tiny perspective, do what we like. There is something about the narcissistic view of "it's all about what i want that the child- like hands over my eyes i can't see death therefore it doesn't exist, nah nah nee nah nah" thinking that our culture perpetuates that damns us and our future to suffering, particularly when it comes to the environment.
Need water to irrigate crops that weren't meant to grow where you are? - Then drain the river.
Need land to run a potentially dangerous pipeline through? - Take it.
But what if that pipeline breaks or leaks and poisons the water source? - This means jobs and infrastructure and support industry and... you can't stand in the way of progress, this is subversive behaviour. Call in armed guards.
The rhetoric around industry and what we do to our planet as a result of this relentless take take take like there is no consequence (ie no possibility of death) is ubiquitous. That greed and relentlessness is one face of not acknowledging that everything is finite. That death exists. When we know that death exists we accede that there are limits.
When we tend to the death of those we care about; get in there and have the hard conversations, sit vigil, watch the leaving, when we know the truth about a life extinguished we can no longer ignore the vast all encompassing truth of death.
When you know and respect the immensity of death you know endings and how they are intrinsically linked to life. When you know death you know that you have not only the responsibility to live but some hand in where death comes.
When you face life knowing death can be drawn closer by your actions you begin to count the cost and the benefits of your actions.
As humans we have created needless death. My rivers are unswimmable because of the consequence of deforestation, farming practises and poor guardianship of the health of the waterways. Many species are extinct on my little part of the planet because of the actions of humans. The talk of extinction can sometimes seem hypothetical (maybe because the immensity of that terrifies my tiny brain) but knowing that i can't healthily take my children to the local swimming hole is a sorrow for me it's a travesty and ... well, shit is getting real. Knowing Lions and Tigers and elephant and rhino are endangered in my lifetime is deeply sobering.
I have seen first hand the bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef . I have seen the utter destruction of the habitat of the Orangutan and countless other creatures in Sarawak
Our death making culture of greed and production is possible because we ignore the presence of death.
It is like we have, in our addiction to the consumption/production/consumption cycle lost all awareness of the life/death/life cycle and in our addiction to that, we become blind to the death making nature of our process.
Day after day our culture takes actions that are like the equivalent of chain-smoking cigarettes laced with lead and we just don't seem to be able to stop.
When we as individuals take in the truth of death and live cognisant of that truth we live in the knowledge of the impact of our actions. We are no longer able to deny the impact of our actions and we understand how each action either contributes to bringing death closer or keeping death in balance with life. When we acknowledge that death is part of the equation not just for us as individuals but for our species and those other creatures whose lives are at our mercy, maybe then we will not act as if life and everything is an infinite resource.
Because the truth is that life is not a resource to be mined but a dance towards decay and death. We are partnered not just by this body, as miraculous as it is, but by our family, friends, antecedents and this beautiful planet. We are, when lady death is swirling her skirts alongside us guiding and supporting our choices, able to know that we can act in life affirming ways. And that is a gift.
I hope in my lifetime we learn to open it wisely.