I've heard it said that we come here with a kind of pre-ordained roadmap in our soul that is meant to lead us through life. That we each have talents, gifts that we need to discern and then find ways to manifest them in the world. The hope would be that this is done for the greater good.
You are a writer, write things that inspire people; you are a painter, paint something that stops someone long enough so that their breathing slows down; you are a musician, take the silence around you and make it into sounds that vibrate with the beating of our hearts. You are a doctor, heal us; you are a farmer, grow the food we need to be well; you are a teacher, instill in our young people a sense of self worth, dignity, give space for their curiosities to expand.
You know, like that.
Money kind of makes a mess of things along the way, but that's not really what I came to write about today.
If there is a sensibility that is bound up in us when we arrive here embodied, then I understand now that mine has always had to do with death and dying. And its dance partner, life and living.
Because you see, I cannot say with even a modicum of truth that the two are separate. Or even opposites. The two are lovers, betrothed forever with vows that leave off the traditional ending: t'il death do us part. Life and death are forever bound by some kind of mysterious energy that will not, cannot burn out, nor allow for separation.
I must have arrived here with the contrails of that other world, wherever it is we come from (which may very well be where go when we leave here) following me, like the bridal veil of a princess.
I remember the dads in the neighborhood where I grew up. One hanged himself. One took the street hostage one day, pointing a gun out of an upstairs bedroom window for several hours, then turning the barrel to his own head and firing. Another put himself in front of a train to save his children while they were fishing off a railroad trestle during their summer vacation.
I can still see the family station wagon driving down our street the day they returned, Mom driving. Dad gone.
I remember the friend from college who hanged himself after we graduated. He pulled his car over one day, off the Taconic, went into the woods and ended his life. I remember the other friend who also went into the woods to die. He worked with me in my second year as a teacher. In my fourth year as a teacher my young and talented intern killed herself when she left for college that fall.
There have been car accidents: Josh, Ruthie, Jerry. Cancer: Judy, Karen, Esther, Bob, Harry, Robert, Charlie.
Hiking accident, biking accident, boating accident, flash flood. Addiction. I have known people who have died in each of these ways.
When I was young I loved the book, Death Be Not Proud. I was fascinated by the idea that someone so young and brilliant could die from cancer.
Is it a strange and unseemly fascination? A preoccupation? Or was this the code embedded in my soul when I got here? Was I born to bring comfort to the dying?
"You have one foot in this world and one foot in the spirit world," Jean Jacques, Canadian intuitive told me many years ago. It came as good news. It made me feel less weird, like maybe there was a plan. Things started to make sense.
Still, it took several more years before I started doing the work: tending to the actual dying and their people. Funny, isn't it, how it can take most of a life to get there? I wanted things to be ordered and appropriate for a long time. I held the many visions instilled by public school and the Catholic church. I did all the right things: college, check; teaching job; check; marriage; check. Home, land, kids, station wagon, vacations check check check check.
Don't get me wrong. Those are all very, very good things. But at some point the roadmap prevailed. And I began to sing the song I came here to sing.
To give a life over to the mysteries of the soul requires that we allow the chaos that comes with it. I'm working on this. Life really isn't all that manageable, I've discovered. Life, as it turns out, said the girl who grew up in the house next to house next to house, lawns perfectly cut and sprayed with chemicals to kill weeds suburbs, is about taking risks and being open to chance. Many of the very best things that have happened to me in my life happened when I was blown off course.
At 53 I own this: I was placed on this earth, not only to bring forth Samuel and Nathaniel and Helen, but to help you see that death, in the words of the great Ram Dass, is not an outrage.
Hear Ursula Le Guin: If you can see a thing whole...it seems that it's always beautiful. Planets, lives... But up close, a world's all dirt and rocks. And day to day, life's a hard job, you get tired, you lose the pattern. You need distance... The way to see how beautiful the earth is, is to see it as the moon. The way to see how beautiful life is, is from the vantage point of death.
Death is not a swear word, people, stop telling your kids not to say it. Amen.