Death. It’s something we will all encounter. We can fight it and hope it won’t arrive but it will. We all have an expiration date. None of us know what that date is. There are those of us with a terminal illness and we may have been given a “death time frame.”
There are those who believe in a life after death. In Buddhism we call this Samsara, the cycle of birth, existence and dying. As someone who practices Buddhism, I believe in the cycle of birth and death. I don’t fear death. I fear not living my life to the best of my ability of not being the best person I can be. I feel sadly for those who believe this is a one-time show, that this is our one and only opportunity to”get it right.” My goal here isn’t to get you to believe in life after death. If you think about it and those thoughts help you to become a better person with respect to your choices, then congratulations. Otherwise I’m just sayin.
We talk about death as the ability to “cross over” from this plane of existence to whatever comes next. I have no idea how accurate this belief is and when I reach the end of my road, I won’t be able to come back and let you know.
This past week, within three days I lost two people I know. One was a high school friend, the other, my son’s father-in-law. While these relationships may not have been close, I stepped back and reassess the quality of my life. Like the aged character at the end of the movie Saving Private Ryan, I ask, at least of myself if I have lived a good life. A question I reflect on several times each week is “What good shall I do this day?”
The lives of both of these individuals came to close as rapidly as fall transitioned to winter.
Day by day I get older. I am reminded when I look in the mirror. My hair gray, my beard becoming white. My right knee which had been operated on just a few years ago hurts more every morning. The word “curmudgeon” is one which seems to be more closely related to me. I find my patience for the inane grows shorter. By inane I refer to those time wasters. I am keenly aware that the time I have left grows less and less everyday. I choose to lead a life filled with fun and purpose. The transitions that I notice in the mirror seem to have taken place over night. I actively think of retirement even though this is still just shy of a decade away. Getting old isn’t for sissies.
Accepting whatever is at is, can be a difficult pill to swallow. Acceptance that everything, even death is change and will touch everyone of us. The Buddhist principle of impermanence is one which I savor. It is the essence of the Second of the Buddha’s Four Noble Truths, that the cause of suffering is our “attachment” to both material and emotional things. The more we are attached to keeping something, the more suffering we cause in our lives. The suffering which we cause often spills over onto others and, if left unchecked can destroy those relationships The Third Noble truth is that there is an end to our suffering and that is through following the Noble Eightfold Path. The essence of the the Noble Eightfold Path is the practice of what the Buddha taught, the Middle Way or the Middle Path. It’s not falling into the extremes of negative thinking and allowing ourselves to become caught on a path which is too far to either the right or the left. AA has a slogan, “Let go and let God.”
Over the years I have lost people, as do we all in my life. I remember fondly those people who have had an impact in my life. There was my grandfather, who like my father taught me the importance of character. My grandmother who taught me the importance of loving-kindness. There was Jim who taught me the importance of education and both personal and professional character and Ed who reaffirmed the beautiful gift of loving-kindness and friendship. My life has been improved in so many ways for having had our paths crossed. I remember all of you fondly and with much love and respect.
Whatever your path spiritually, I hope you can find your middle path, accept impermanence and live a life of quality and happiness.