Tuesday, 10 December 2013
On Confronting the Inevitable
There are a whole bunch of interesting comments on my “journal entry” post last week musing about what comes next as I get older. One of them is a question posed by an Australian TGB reader, Brigid Walsh:
”I wonder if you might explain further on the first bullet point "Yielding to the truth of what lies at the end of everyone's life journey.”
I see her point; that's hardly clear, is it? Sometimes my reach for brevity goes too far.
I was talking about accepting the fact of our own death - of confronting it, of taking the time to reconcile with it through one's personal beliefs, philosophy, experience and whatever understanding of life and death we have reached (or not).
My personal story vis a vis the reality of death might explain further.
I was five or six years old when I first came to know that I would die – that is, stop living, cease to exist, not be here anymore.
And that knowledge terrified me. Although it could not possibly be true, my sense is that for the next ten years or more I never, ever slept; I just stayed awake all night trembling with uncontrolled fear in the face of future nonexistence.
Somewhere around my high school years I began a personal and private study of religions - in particular comparing their beliefs about death and afterlife.
In the years following school, I worked my way through the ancients' belief systems and the more modern philosophers and some naturalists helped too along with, as I entered my twenties, a lot of wine- and weed-fueled all-nighters with friends on the great questions of life and death. (That's what you're supposed to do at that age.)
In my case, none of it – well, except maybe for the wine and weed - did anything to alleviate middle-of-the-night terrors until I “realized” this: You are all going to die and I am the one immortal. So there!
Don't laugh. For a good while it was my best-kept secret, something to feel superior about, and even though I didn't really believe it, I sort of did and it helped. Sort of.
At this point, not a day of my life since age five or six had gone by that I didn't think about the prospect of my personal death for at least a smidgen of time and often, in quiet moments, longer.
Here is a glimpse of my confusion on the subject: my secret immortality notwithstanding, on every birthday I privately asked myself, I wonder how many more of these I will get? Will I make it to next year?
Time passed – a lot of time – and I came to see how debilitating my fear of dying was, how it got in the way of living. It was my constant companion shadowing even the best events: Is this the last time I'll feel this good? I would wonder.
It's exhausting to be always afraid and finally, after so many, many years of it, I determined to find a way to overcome it. I wish I had a prescription for any of you with the same kind of troubles. What would be better is that you are all much smarter and more fully evolved than I and don't need my thoughts on this.
The best I can say for anyone who does want them, is what you undoubtedly already know: we each face and work to overcome our demons in our own ways and in our own time.
For me, it took half a lifetime to recognize there might be a way to escape the constant fear. Once I arrived at that point, meditation helped – still does. Sadly, the deaths of elders I knew and, particularly in the 1980s and 1990s, too many men I knew who died too young helped me see the way.
And all that study when I was a young woman into religions, philosophy and biology and those late-night bull sessions? They didn't go to waste. I found, in my search for some measure of serenity, that I had learned more than I knew from them.
The point was to find acceptance for this horror and we shouldn't deny that on a personal level, that's what it is – horror. With apologies to Hamlet, to be and then not to be? How dare we be given life only to have it snatched away.
But, as they say, that's what is and I'm grateful now to be pretty sure I found acceptance of it for myself. Note that's “pretty” sure. But generally, I hardly ever feel fearful about death nowadays.
Someone within my hearing recently said that she thinks of death as the last great adventure and I used to say that too. But now I think it's too facile, a phrase meant to sound more profound than it is.
Death is too serious to be taken lightly and god knows, I can't be accused of that.
It took the earthly equivalent of eternity for me to find my way to an accommodation with death but it was worth the effort. It has felt, these past years, like a great burden has been lifted and day-to-day life is much easier now.
Whew, Brigid – aren't you sorry you asked.
That was a particularly fruitful and interesting conversation last week and toward the end of her comment, Brigid made another point that reminds me of how proud I am of what we have created together at this blog:
”I love and welcome the responses you draw from your readers, Ronni. They...encourage and contribute to the building of a community in this place.”
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Marc Leavitt: Call Me Mister