Born and Dying
When I think of serious matters, I wonder what it is that makes us a family. I wonder what it is that we all have in common. Does the child in Ocho Rios share any of life’s experience with the child in Chicago? Is there a thought that I might have that could be shared with a friend in Kitwe? What was it about your day in San Antonio, that helped, that might help others in Portland?
With all that I write and speak about, and with all that I offer as advice, I wonder what is true for everyone. Suddenly this morning, as I pondered what the death of my mother meant to me, this thought came to me. We are all born. We are all dying. No matter what happens in between the two, these two are the only true things that we share. But is this so? Is this the truth? Perhaps if we want to roll back over and go to sleep it is reasonable. But if we want to offer and accept hope, it is not reasonable.
I have been fortunate enough to travel to many places and return home many times. It has been my good fortune to want to return home each time I have been away. Without all of the details, there were times when I walked away. There were times when I thought I would not return. Something drew me home. All of the things that drove me to leave eventually vanished and I brought myself back. Whether it was with pride or humility, I always came back.
My mother took many trips as well, though some were in her mind and some were in an ambulance. Some were in a plane, on a cruise ship, by rail, or in a cab. She mastered the art of going home. She lived her life in a way that showed she understood that home was not to be despised, but that home was where she belonged. When she was away, she at the same time enjoyed where she had gone and longed for home. If she gave a thing it was given freely. When she took a thing it was taken with gratitude. This was true of material things, advice, love, and also kindness.
There was a trip she took before she died that would not lead her back home. As I sat in her living room and held her hand, she told me to take care of my father. When I asked if she was in pain, she assured me she was alright. When word came that the ambulance had arrived to take her to a hospice facility, it occurred to me that all of our going outs, that led to all of our coming ins, would not ensure her return. This time was the last time she would leave the house that I had lived all of my life. It was the last time she would see the familiar roads, the trees that changed colors every fall, and the homes of those she had grown to love.
It would be nice if I could take this time to offer some inspirational thought on how she was going home. How she was on her way to heaven and that heaven is our home. If I wrote the blog to be popular, especially among the religious, I would wax philosophically about heaven now. I might even throw a plug in for living a generous and righteous life. Saying she was going to heaven would be akin to you standing in the middle of a mansion, walking to the kitchen, and on the way exclaiming you are going to a mansion. So much of heaven is in this world that “going to heaven” or “going home” when you die seems a little redundant. Those that travel from Central Park to Brooklyn are not going to New York.
We are all born. We will all pass away. What is in the middle is the stuff that matters. The being born and the being on the way to death is what we have in common. The gang member in some suburban city, the preacher that believes his words will save souls, the politician who manipulates popular thinking, and the mother who wants only for her child to have food, all share this being born and dying. Some of us have an easier time than others, some of us suffer in ways that others do not, but we all have the capacity to live in the middle of what we call life and death.
This is not a blog written by Joel Olsteen where I will try to convince you that you are God’s favorite. It is not a blog written by Sadhguru that offers mystical teachings on the way Yoga might transform your experience. This is not a blog written by Mother Teresa that wants for you to consider only the poor and dying of the world. This is not a post by Tony Robbins offering to give you the strength to conquer your fears in a $2,000 seminar. Those things are what those figures chose to speak about. What I am saying is this. There is the middle. What we do with the middle manifests the will of God.
The will of God is no small matter, though small matters create the will of God. While some of us crave meaning and some of us crave material things, some of us crave peace and some of us crave conflict, we all provide ingredients for the divine and divine will. Whether we choose love or we choose hate, whether we create goodness or destroy goodness, whether we speak kindness or fuel anger, we create either heaven or hell. Look around. For some heaven on earth is easily believed while others have not trouble believing that this is hell. Either is true.
What my mother understood was that if faced with the choice of erring on the side of compassion or erring on the side of disinterest, it is always better to choose compassion. Making a mistake by being too compassionate is no mistake at all. By being born, all people have some goodness inside. Having lived, all people have something in them that is not good. What harm could it do to speak of the good inside others? Would it not promote goodness if we chose to speak on good things? Also, would it not refocus the attentions of others on their shortcomings if all we chose to do is criticize?
You were born. Welcome. You are dying. Tough break. We are not here together to earn our way to another home. This may very well be the day we go out into this world and do not return in this form to this world. These things are not said to create enough guilt or worry in you to “act right” or to do good things. These are just simply stated facts. These facts have been manipulated by countless religious leaders, politicians, soap salesmen, and self-help gurus. Even I, to some degree, am using them in a manipulative way.
And what would I like to create with that manipulation? Joy. This, above charity, above kindness, and above love, will change the world. We all know we are more likely to treat those around us well if we are joyful. We all know that if we have a bad day we might “take it out on those around us”. There is a joy in knowing that in this moment, we are only possibility. We are not a collection of our past experiences and we are not made up of what we lack. We are only the possibilities that exist for good in this moment and we are the co-creators of the very will of God.
Inside all of us lives the potential for less hunger, less depression, less discrimination, less war, less conflict, less political grandstanding, and less hatred.
To paraphrase God as quoted in almost all religious texts… “Don’t screw it up”. To quote John Lennon, “Imagine”. It matters little if you like God or John Lennon more. What matters is that we work to create a heaven and not simply wait to enter that heaven and that we find joy in the smalls.