Everybody’s wonderin’ what and where they all came from.
Everybody’s worryin’ ’bout where they’re gonna go when the whole thing’s done…I believe in love and I live my life accordingly.
But I choose to let the mystery be.
~ Iris DeMent
Fear makes a strange but undeniably solid bedfellow. We get sick. Our body betrays us by exhibiting signs and symptoms that feel like strangers inside our skin. A loved one dies. Friends grow old and infirm; still the world hums along as ever it did, with or without the presence of the departed. What of this mystery, death; what curse, this disease? What are we doing here, if we leave so little an impression that nothing seems to change, once we’re gone?
Imagine for a moment that we have impact, if not on some sweeping, massive, visible level, perhaps on a more internal and profound one. Consider this story, lovingly told by Robert Romanyshyn in his book The Soul in Grief:
Before Janet died, I had a vague sense that life was really a straight line, and I lived my life half committed to this unexamined prescription. I was responsible, and only on occasion did I explore a wilder, less conventional life. But these explorations were mostly the dreams of a reluctant gypsy soul, and for the most part I took very few risks.
After her death, however, my life coiled in on itself, and since then I have come to appreciate how my life is much more circular in its movements. Perhaps I always knew but forgot. I remember that two years before she died, I had a vivid glimpse of the way in which a simple event, like sitting on a park bench on a lazy Sunday afternoon, was the occasion for revealing how a singular moment in time can turn round on itself and open to archaic depths.
If we can learn to befriend death, perhaps we can begin to comprehend how to fully and unconditionally embrace life. For it does seem that confronting our mortality imbues us with a deeper appreciation for living, whether it be indirectly through the loss of a loved one or directly through experiencing illness and the growing knowledge of our own demise. Something inside us shifts over to accommodate the inevitable ebb and swell of feelings that society and the logical mind dismiss as too dramatic. For the soul, moments in time have a vertical depth, and moments, which for the ego-mind are separated into past, present, and future, are drawn together by an affinity of mood and image (R.R.).
While we stay perpetually busy holding death at bay, living out our days burdened with the mundane, mortality courts us at every turn. From time to time, we even feel its cold fangs nipping at our heels. We sense an overwhelming presence we are powerless to control, occupying ourselves instead with routine tasks which place mind over matter. We hope to remain undiscovered, invisible; or highly visible, yet even in this we seek a sort of oblivion.
Day to day we put things off. We get caught up; the doorbell rings, kids arrive home from school, the phone dings, texts summon. Before we know it, a day slips into night, a week turns the page, a month, then years swim before our eyes like slippery fish we can’t quite grasp. An unquiet underground river runs through us we choose to ignore, though it haunts us in our dreams. We flirt with our creativity and make excuses as to why we can’t engage. A sudden call informs us that yet another friend or beloved elder is ill or dying. We feel lonely or bereft, seeking comfort in externals. We are tired and want to zone out. We are bone-weary, wishing only to bask on the beach of un-complication. Islands of inspiration erode and sink into a sea of confusion, once again.
It does not have to be this way. The human spirit is indomitable, and no matter our misfortunes, we have an uncanny ability to rally to life. The invitation remains open as long as we draw breath. If we have been ignorant of how profoundly death affects life and how the two are inseparably entwined, we may yet gather tremendous momentum toward enlightenment. Any key to any door can be helpful in the moment, as long as we are listening and learning. And helpful is the most we can ask and expect from others. Though our mind wants The Answer, and in this society we are conditioned to not only want but to expect it, we understand on a deeper level that satisfying our curiosity about something as complex as why we live and die is futile. Yet consider that this yearning might be what launches us onto our internal quest. Let us do our very best instead to embrace the moment, whatever it may hold, and awaken to our living, breathing, fully engaged and vibrant Being. It then becomes quite effortless to allow The Mystery to simply Be.