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love and then do what you will.

March 22, 2009

I’m not the kind of person who normally takes comfort in the whole big world little person stuff that many spiritual people seem to get off on reminding you of.  It’s never really made me feel any better about death for instance to be reminded that 1. My body is made of dead stars i.e. energy is neither created nor destroyed 2. My life is short and terribly unimportant in the scheme of things like the universe and time everlasting. 

I typically want to feel more important not less, but something happened today.  This weekend I’m going through training to be a volunteer at an AIDS hospice in the Castro.  When the director of the program asked us would be volunteers if we had any fears about working closely with people who no longer harbored any misgivings that they would live forever, and in fact would probably be dead within months or days, I said I was afraid I would have nothing to say to someone who was knocking on heaven’s door so to speak.  What could I have to offer these people facing the mysterious beyond, which I have never thought was actually anymore mysterious than the loss of consciousness and a wooden box in the dirt. 

A man next to me turned to me then, and said that as someone who has been living with HIV for the last 20 years, and has watched more friends than he could count on fingers and toes die of AIDS his best advice to me was that there was nothing to be afraid of.  There’s nothing wrong with death, he said, and you know I believed him.  The only thing wrong with death is the dying, and the part that hurts, the rest I guess is just oblivion and stars. 

Since I was little I have tried sometimes to understand what it will mean to die and be dead forever.  It’s the forever part that I can’t seem to get around.  I can clearly see myself sitting on the school bus in elementary school headed home on a sunny day and repeating the word, “Forever,” over and over in my mind as I pictured the Earth growing further and further away and the galaxy spreading out below my spaceship.  I couldn’t imagine all the things I would miss, and I would miss a lot, we all miss almost everything but the 80 years or so to which we bear witness.  Which is no problem, and if life is no problem and death is no problem, then it’s no problems.  Your life, and mine.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Kent McMIllan permalink
    March 22, 2009 5:22 am

    Since I was little I have tried sometimes to understand what it will mean to die and be dead forever. It’s the forever part that I can’t seem to get around.

    Well, what does time really mean? The Western faith in an endless graduated stream of time flowing second by measured second is only one of many different models of time. In daily life, what is it really beyond some memory of what came before what?

    If I try to recall some specific time when something happened, it is like rummaging through a great drawer full of letters and photos, small precious objects and souvenirs of questionable taste, to figure out the before and after to it all.

    That time passes very quickly or very slowly, depending upon what there is to remember and so to set it all in motion.

    Another measure of time is that time just is. It is all of the things that have happened and have yet to happen, the whole drawer, including its yet unseen contents. Sometimes dreams connect a person with that aspect of time where everything just runs together into a great river.

    I attended a memorial service last year for a fellow who I had taken classes from in college. I had met him when he was about 36 and last saw him when he was past 70. More than a few of his former students and colleagues showed up to basically tell the story of themselves in the terms of their experience of the deceased. I don’t imagine many of them set out to do that, but that was what it amounted to.

    But in the background, there was a slideshow endlessly playing on random shuffle, photos of the fellow taken throughout his life, but all out of normal order. He is 40, now a toddler. That is him standing grey-headed on the beach, in Mexico, the young father with his kids somewhere in California with the VW bus, that’s him in the Navy.

    That was life in cyclic time. It had no beginning and no end, only an endless wheel of events spinning around us at the unseen center. I had the distinct sensation of time collapsing as I stood in the darkened hall, listening to the notes of self-congratulation in the anecdotes about the deceased, watching the photos appear and go, unguided by the before and after.

    I think that the hard part, the part that seems to trouble most people, is what it means to live. It is sometimes damn hard to just be fully present in the moment, without the head full of ideas about everything that isn’t there then and maybe never will be.

  2. Kent McMIllan permalink
    March 22, 2009 5:58 am

    Hmm. If there were an edit function, I’d revise part of that comment so:

    That was life in cyclic time. It had no beginning and no end, only a dissolving blur of events spinning around us at the unseen center.

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