I’ve been thinking about dying lately.
Not the act of dying; not me personally dying, or even those close to me dying necessarily.
Just this: everybody dies. All the great paintings, deep writings, fabulous carvings, fiery passions, sorrows and songs that have gone before were done by people scarcely remembered now. Most people are almost completely forgotten within 20 years of their death. The thought staggers and humbles me.
No one escapes, not even the finest or greatest among us.
The trigger for these morbid reflections is a rash of deaths and losses. Within the last few years, my dear aunt (from ALS, a terrifying disease) grandmother (a long, full life, but sorely missed) and a childhood friend in a car accident. Falling asleep at the wheel and gone in a nanosecond, as any of us could be at any time. Then just today I got a call from someone that a mutual friend, a wonderful radiant woman with a child at home, had committed suicide.
To top it off I got a new client, a six year old child with a phobia of death that is keeping her glued to her parents and tied to the home and teddy bear. Beginning therapy with her is beginning therapy with her family and talking openly about the Ultimate Taboo in America- dying.
So I meditate on this: am I doing what I came for? Is this world a better place because I was here? Is there something undone, that I still need to do?
The answer is yes, yes, and again yes, and that’s good. I am far from ready to go and there is still so much to do. Thankfully for me, it’s not about “making my mark” in this passing and corporeal world, but in touching lives. Thus, if today is that of my untimely (in my opinion) passing, I can go okay with it. I did my best each day to help, love, and to fully live, serving God through it all.
Then something different happened to me on my exercise walk.
I actually got a jog going all the way to the end of the former pineapple field I walk in, which has become a beautiful ecosystem in the 5 years it has lain fallow.
On my way back I cut across the field on the barely discernable track the axis deer and mountain bikers have made. The waist high grass blew golden, punctuated by the tangled blue of morning glories. Grouse rose on beating wings and crossed the looming purple of the volcano in the distance.
A visceral happiness rose in me, and I suddenly felt all my ancestors alive and present in the cells of my body, particularly my grandfathers: one of them a marine biologist, the other a rancher from Texas. They and all the pioneers that had been my family were suddenly alive, responding to the natural beauty all around me.
This is the kind of land they saw in their day: untouched, abundant. It is our natural state to walk through rich fields, feeling the wind and seeing nothing but wild.
I can only call it a spiritual experience, to feel my (their) very DNA crying out with joy and recognition of the tawny grass, the bowl of blue sky, the glitter of sun on the ocean. I guess that means they aren’t really dead, they literally live on inside me. And now, in my children, I’ve done my bit to pass them on.
My garden is my backyard petri dish of experimental growing. I bought seeds, and I finger the packets:
Pole Romano Garden Beans
Black Beauty Zucchini
Sweet Mix Multicolored Peppers
Early and Often Hybrid Tomatoes
Ambrosia Bicolor Sweet Corn
Red and Green Lush Romaine Lettuce Blend
Neon Lights Swiss Chard
Bush Champion Cucumber (anyone else get the pun on this last one? I had to buy it for the chuckle).
I love their slightly histrionic, florid names. And in this time of loss, seeds are all the potential in the world; a charm against suicide.
Lovely post, Toby. Yeah.
I wonder how we can harvest those magic life’s moments for use at later, less perfect times. I guess the answer is that we can’t and shouldn’t but always be open to the next magical moment. Your post is wonderful and important.
Loved this blog for the beauty and pain that it represented.
The one grandfather was an oceanographer internationally respected in his professional field.
Stages…..all the stations of existence are stages staged, some of which continue in descendants while other mutable stations remain fixed for future exploration by others unknown. No one really dies if remembered or discovered or if a gene shared.
Swell writing, Tobias. I only hope you weren’t thinking of me when you conceived it. We both know you have something of a fixation on termination.
I have, BTW, sent you an email or two without response. Am I using an out-of-date address?
I invite you to visit me to read my latest rant. I won’t copy it here as you probably have rules against literary pollution, but here are the initial and terminal paragraphs.
>>My heroine and love goddess Sarah Palin is now being interviewed by Greta of Fox News about the ANWR oil-drilling controversy. ANWR, as we all mostly know, is home to North America’s largest population of mosquitoes, not to mention a bunch of caribou and an Arctic fox or two.
Not that I’ve anything against Goths, of course–or Gepids either. Some of my best friends, etc, etc…<<
you are right. Death is our best friend, unappreciated in our culture.
Does anyone really die or do they just participate in a new way?
Hm. Quite possible.
How serendipitous that we found each other today, my dear. And that you should post this beautiful post. Let me explain.
About a year ago, an old boyfriend contacted me on Facebook. Let’s call him D. I was shocked actually. We hadn’t spoken in 20 or so years; it didn’t ended well. My husband (of 18 yrs) encouraged me to resolve any lingering issues I had with D, if it would help me understand much of what had happened (I’ve written about him a few times on my blog, “Tied” & “He Loved Me That Much” if you want to cruise by).
We spoke online only for several months. His memories were much clearer than mine. He remembered my birthday, our dating anniversary (we were together 5 yrs). That amazed me.
I think I probably remembered the painful parts (his cheating, anger issues, emotional unavailability) that had hurt me so, whereas he remembered only the sweetness and fun. He sent me songs from that time. He apologized for pretty much everything, told me about his life, his job, his son, and asked more than once if he still had a shot!
After about 3 mos, we spoke one day, no different than any other. He said he’d be on Facebook later that nite. He wasn’t. Or the next day. Or the day after that. When I checked his wall, I saw the messages: “RIP D. We’ll miss you, bro.”
I was in shock. What could have happened? He seemed fine when I spoke w/ him.
But he wasn’t. Apparently everything he had told me about his life was a total lie. I don’t know what made him snap, but he shot himself thru the heart that nite.
His birthday was yesterday. 20 years of his birthdays have gone by and I haven’t once thought that day was special or different. He remembered 20 years of my birthdays. That breaks my heart a little.
Now I don’t think that day will go by again, ever, without me thinking about him.
I hate death. No one can escape. It is such a bizarre concept- the act of dying.
great stuff and thank you !!
Thanks for sharing this Toby:-) Here is me thinking again…passing moments are always dying while future moments are being born. Quetion ~ What moment will we focus on? Seeds hold so much potential…just like all of us. make it a great day and thanks again!
Very refreshing to read, as always! You know how to cut straight to through the issue and find the essence.
I’m sorry for your losses. You have captured the fundamental part of dying – everyone takes a last breath. And everyone, at one point or another (some more than most) thinks about death. Thank you.
The endless circle of life and death…lovely post, Toby. Life is made of such visceral moments.