What the Threat of Death can Teach us.


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Yesterday I thought a lot about death.

It began with with the news that Brittany Maynard had chosen two days before as her own death. I’d only just learned (and edited and shared this piece) about her plight for the right to a dignified death on the same evening I’d published and shared.

The post was popular, the conversations vibrant.

The opportunity to dig deep into that piece (on behalf of the writer, Molly Ruby) really shook me awake. It made me remember how a close friend had told me about her experience with death, once, and how I have vowed since to do everything in my power to make sure that people have an opportunity to just be comfortable when the time comes.

To just be at peace.

I don’t think that peace should be too much to ask for in life or in death, but somehow it is for so many.

Later that morning I found myself with windstung cheeks and open, wondering eyes, walking through a maze of leaf-littered paths in what could be one of the most morbid of places: a cemetery.

Moving through that restful and sad place somehow woke me up; while I was respectful and solemn of the context of the place, it’s beauty fairly stunned me.

There was a certain gentleness about breathing it all in, of the grace and oldness of the beautiful statues that stand as gravestones.

Sadly the bigger the statues, the more money the deceased (families) probably had (have), which means their graves will rule over the rest for a longer period of time.

But the statues give life to the place, a community of sorts. I imagined all of the ghosts (not just the rich ones) dancing together in this peaceful park on the side of the mountain, some maybe escaping to haunt earthly places that they love or could not let go of.

I’m not even a superstitious person; many close friends have experienced ghosts (and I believe their experiences) and I have not. But I’d like to believe that death is not the end. Just the choice that we have to use our imaginations in that way is a thing that can keep us light.

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So I was transfixed by the way the stillness of the statues was highlighted by patches of sunlight and contrasted by whirlwinds of leaves and distant city sounds.

I wrote recently about breathing out to balance all of the inwardness. And this is part of finding a reflection in the dark goddess 

The reflecting made me think about the little deaths, the way that we die to each moment, that we have to leave the past behind every day.

It made me think of the reasons we are so scared to morph out of the things we are defined by: I am (we are) not that ‘person’ anymore.

I want to leave a lot of it behind but I loved it, for real. And don’t quite know what is filling the space anymore.

Change happens anyway—we can’t stop it. Big changes, loss that seems out of our control is the biggest. So I want to change now and move into a new way of being but the patterns that I’ve held onto for so long define me, too.

My skin feels cool and papery, now, suddenly waxy and wan. I don’t feel young anymore. This feeling has been sneaking up on me for a while, I guess but it’s finally hitting me: I’m aging. I no longer feel the warm fullness of youth in my face-skin but a fallen, cooler feel, like a blue-grey filtered photograph that not so long ago was warmly tinted, immune to gravity and time.

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Or maybe I just thought that.

And that’s not really important.

What is important is that we see beauty in death, in the fight for a meaningful legacy.

But we can also surrender to forces beyond our control.

Maybe the beauty in Brittany’s fight was about surrender, how she was not fighting death per se, but resigning to it (as we all have to, really) in the way that was most peaceful for her.

In this, she will stand the test of time gracefully, like the statue-gravestones that I so love. They seem to say Surrender. Peace. We are still here, still valid, still marking the space and place and lives of us and our loved ones…but maybe, just maybe, the acceptance of loss means it’s not an ending.

Maybe marking the reality of (the threat of) an earthly death is exactly what keeps us going.

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