On Dying And Everlasting Life

I’ve given a fair amount of thought to death.

It isn’t something I talk to other people about very often, death, so I can’t say I really know very much about what other people think. It does seem to me that there is a lot of denial. Religion attempts to soothe our worried minds with a promise of everlasting life. Thoughts of things like euthanasia or assisted suicide are beyond rational consideration. Doctor shows and drug company ads seem based on the premise that death is the ultimate failure. Life must be preserved and maintained at all costs lest we give in to a simple fact: everybody dies.

Someday I will die. You will too.

I realized that there are a few simple questions that when I faced honestly were very enlightening.

A dear friend once said to me that when she died she hoped to go to a wonderful place and be reunited with her lost friends and relatives. Its a very lovely thought, but it’s veracity is neither here nor there for me. What really made me think was the statement that followed, where she explained that if she were to find out there was no after-life, no heaven, and no friends waiting on the other side she would get a gun and blow her brains out.

I tried to imagine the millions of people living in misery, enduring pain with the hope that something better will await them when they die. Being the person I am, I of course had to pose the question – what if there isn’t anything?

I realized at that moment that regardless of a heaven, regardless of religion, living this life in misery only to hope for better luck or a happy reunion in the next is madness.

Immediately I asked myself a very important question: if I were to die tonight – if I knew I had an hour or two left – how would it feel? Would I feel frightened? Sad? Angry? Relieved? Guilty? Happy? It might be a little bit of all those things. But that question put my life into immediate perspective.

I realized that when my physical body is gone, the things that will be left of me are the impressions and effects I had on others. There is my wife, my children, my job. There are the students I have had. There are the people I was unfair or unjust to. There are the people who read my blog. There  are people who love and who hate me.

So if I were to die tonight, what could I say of these relationships? Did I make my wife happy? Did I give my children enough information, enough of myself? Did I teach them? Did they know how much I cared about them and that the *only* thing I ever wanted from them was to see them happy and perhaps share in that joy? Was I an honest worker and did I serve my disciplines well? Was I a good teacher, and did I give my students anything good that they carried forward in their lives? Did I leave even a single reader with a kernel of something that sparked some positive change in their life? Did I try to take responsibility for my mistakes and make up for them if possible? Will even those who hate me, have enough respect to say I tried?

And what if I were given ten more years? Would I use them to be sure I left a rich legacy to those that follow me?

This is *my* concept of ever lasting life.

Some Buddhists meditate on the image of a corpse decomposing. I once read of Buddhist monks who would go to burial grounds of another religion (Zoroastrians?) who left their dead to decay in the open. There they would meditate on death and their own mortality.

A little creepy maybe, but doesn’t it make you value life just thinking about it? Does it shift your focus? I hope I can learn to better make the most of mine.

– link: my visit to an outdoor crematorium and grave yard in Mumbai (Bombay) India

Like Money In The Bank, Or Sowing And Reaping

Comparing life to a mortgage….

We are born with nothing. We have no clothes. We rely on our parents or guardians to provide for us. When we become adults, many of us will purchase a home. We start careers or businesses. Most will need to rely on a mortgage – and know that if we live long enough we’ll see our investment grow. Then, one day, we’ll be able to cash in on that investment for a different life somewhere else – or leave behind a nice inheritance to whom we please. We work, we invest, we end up with a profit and – we hope – time to enjoy it before we are too old or too sick.

I’m thinking that the real payments in life aren’t the ones we make to the bank. Every time we are devastated by some illness, pick ourselves after some disaster, or even suffer at the hands of our own mistakes we make a payment to ourselves. Our internal bank of wisdom and compassion grows ever larger. The more we keep going, the more we endure, the more adversity we overcome the richer we become.

The catch is that, quite unlike the home equity we can cash out and spend, by the time we have enough wisdom to really do something with it we are too old and have burned so many bridges we can never return to reap the rewards for ourselves.

The only sense I can make of my comparison is that the only consumption, or spending, of this amassed wealth is through helping others. We live our lives, we learn our “lessons”, and maybe we get a chance to tell some younger person, or some person more poor in wisdom and experience, or someone who simply wants to listen to the lessons we learned.

The only illness or infirmity that can keep us from spending this type of wealth is our own bitterness and reluctance to accept the events of our lives as the lessons they are – or perhaps the short sightedness of those who need to hear it.