I used to banish the thought of it. I believed that if I were to dwell on it, I would essentially invite it...that it could be summoned by my attention. As a teenager, I developed strategies for eluding death's presence in my consciousness. I became busy. I built a fortress of activities - a wall to keep out death and its minions...those cloying "possibilities" that would surely seal my fate and condemn me to an afterlife of suffering. Searching desperately for an ideal to cling to and something to define me, I grabbed on to religion and served constant penitence for the sins I was sure I was unknowingly committing. I went to sleep every night terrified that I hadn't done a good enough job of repenting. I was sure God could see deep into my soul where I wasn't really all that sorry that I kissed my boyfriend while reclining in a horizontal position, and whatever that made me feel was surely born of the devil, but....I kind of liked it. Which made it worse. I was afraid. I was afraid all the time.
Over the course of the last 13 years, I have come to recognize a shift in the way I perceive death. In some ways, it serves the same purpose it did at that other, more confusing time in my life. Death is a great motivator - whether we see it as a reason to commit our lives to some higher power through self-sacrifice and joy in purpose, or whether we view it as the catalyst for making the appropriate decisions that will compel us to find the greatest happiness in this life, should it prove to be the only one we get. Maybe there is even a balance between these two ideas. One way or another, the only certainty is that death is final. It is the end of THIS existence, whether or not there is one to follow. Even if we live many times over, we will never be exactly THIS at exactly THIS time ever again.
This past week, a friend of mine lost her closest companion suddenly. One moment her sweet, generous sister was alive, and the next, she wasn't. In the appropriate timing, word began to spread of my friend's tragic loss. I received the information during potentially the busiest week I have had in quite some time. Work of many kinds overwhelmed me, and I began to question my relevance and to feel sorry for myself for putting forth so much effort for so little reward. It was at the height of my anxious frenzy that I got word of the week's horrific events, and I was immediately humbled and profoundly aware of each single moment. The world slowed. I began to notice things - raindrops, wind gusts, birds, the way my hands felt, the way cold glasses of water sweat, how much lovelier Thai food tastes when you eat it with your best friend.
And, on that terrible night, fear left me. When I closed my eyes that night, I let Death in. What filled my head were a thousand eulogies - things I would say if ever I lost those dearest to me. My response would have once been to force those thoughts into a corner and box them away, frightened that Death would catch wind of them and descend upon my loved ones. But, on that night, and still today, I see so very clearly that all of the wonderful, heartfelt offerings we have for those we love should not be contained until they are gone. Why is it not better to share them while they can enjoy them - benefit from them in some way? Why do we hold back our deepest feelings for dear ones until they have left us?
And, so, I have these things to share:
Dad, you are the kindest human being I have ever known. When I see you offer a helping hand to a stranger or say something encouraging to someone you've only just met, my heart hurts because I want so badly to be like you. You are the perfect combination of strength and sensitivity. You find joy in quietly, unassumingly giving of yourself. I admire you more than you could possibly know.
Mom, you are so strong. There is nothing you can't do, and you know that - you are brave and smart and observant. You can turn anything and any day into something special. You make things lovely without even trying. You are genuine and honest, and I know that if anyone ever hurt me, you would be the first responder on the scene. I have seen you do it. You are determined, and you know yourself. I hope that one day I will have your sense of assurance.
Adam, you could charm your way into an igloo carrying a space heater. You make people smile, simply by being present. You are a shiny, effervescent presence. You put people at ease and turn awkward moments into comedic gold. You are going to go so far. I am so proud to tell people you are my brother.
Matt, you love bigger and stronger than I ever thought was possible. Your ability to find the humor in the most frightening situations still astounds me. You are passionate, dedicated, determined and worthy. I prize and aspire to your nobility. You have an enormous heart, and I hope upon hope that those closest to you understand just how much you love them - I can see it, even when you don't say it.
Kristi, you are so beautiful and so sparkly. I look so forward to knowing you better, but for now, I am so thankful that you have embraced my family the way you have. They are safe with you. I know you truly love them.
To my sisters: Liz, Lisa, Sarah, Cara, Nadyne...there are no words. I send you my love in a quiet meditation, and offer you all of the joy I have to give. You have each changed me for the better. Mountains of glitter to each of you. Don't use it sparingly.
I have so very many bits and pieces to share, but as I write, I realize that I could sit at this computer for days and never complete my affirmations. Each and every one of you deserves a book of your own. My life has been touched by so many - the blessings I have known are more numerous than the drops of rain that fall on the concrete outside my window on these especially wet days.
My final nod for tonight, I offer to Death itself. Thank you for showing me how important it is to share my heart while it still beats, and to pass along my gratitude and affection for the many, many beating hearts that have made me who I am, and who will continue to grow me into the person I hope to be - until you come for me. Whether you are the end of the book or simply the last page of a chapter, you are the necessary catalyst that compels us to open up to one another.
For Dori. Such a beautiful spirit, now present among the stars and in the innumerable sands and shells that make up the beaches she loved so much. Be at peace.