George Carlin got it right when he made comedy out of the way we talk about aging. It is funny and sad, but true: we don’t want to come right out and say: “I am old” because that would mean admitting to ourselves and others that we are not: as energetic, as motivated, as “with it,” and worst of all—not relevant. Society values youth, beauty and relevance, for this very real reason—they are fleeting and nothing can stop their passing—not chemical peels, surgery, crossword puzzles, exercise and not even thinking positively. “You are as old as you feel,” I love that one.
Ultimately, we have to settle for and then relinquish lots of things—illusions, dreams, jobs, marriages, friends. Loss is an underlying theme, the unbroken thread of existence. What are we really talking about here, loss of vitality, loss of beauty? No, it is coming to terms with (or totally avoiding) that Death is the ultimate relinquishing and loss.
Some believe that after Death we are going to “live on” in some better place and be reunited with your loved ones, and can rest in that thought. Some believe there is only total oblivion, and can rest in that. Being human, we exist in time and space, and are in the realm of opposites, and usually lean toward one or the other of these ways of thinking about Death
I don’t subscribe to either one; I am somewhere in between. I think we will be in a state of dim awareness. Neither will we be annihilated, nor experience essentially the same thing we have here (only different in that we will be happy, pain and trouble free). I believe we will feel ourselves moving away from earth life and earth love, that we will realize how our thoughts, feelings and actions affected other (ouch!), and we will experience what we brought into being out of our foolishness, selfishness, pride, etc., part of the cycle of reincarnation and karma.
While I have given a lot of thought to reincarnation and karma, and even read extensively about it, I have not fully explored them in any one of the traditions, despite the fact that I also think we are obliged to be as fully conscious as we can, so if I wished to have less of a negative effect on others, and, therefore offset some pain after death, I “should have, could have, would have” put this study as a priority in life. All I can say is I started out with “good intentions”—to follow the many lines of thought regarding these topics, but, like the lines in a perspective drawing, my intentions have ended in a vanishing point.
I have, however, tried to keep a sensible balance, devoting some time each day to reviewing what I have done (or not done), could have done differently (ouch!), how my thoughts/words/actions may have affected others (ouch again!), what underlying motivations were there (vanishing point). Has it worked? I can only say that I haven’t totally given up on this practice (yet).
I feel somewhere in my being a guardian, a monitor, a mediator, who asks me subtle, but important questions that redirect me moment by moment, who allows me to see who I am at my worst and at my best. This capacity also engenders momentary euphoria in the curve and color of a flower, the flight of bird or the brilliance of a star. I am grateful for being able to hear these questions, to feel this joy
Getting older, I am intensely aware of an urgency to live life to the fullest—to eat, drink and be merry with those I care about, to learn more, to see more clearly, to understand more I also feel an inexplicable, deep longing to be with my family— to see them every day if I could, to hug them, to feel them near me, to hear them talk and laugh, to cook for them, to eat with them, to discuss things with them, to understand who they are and will be.
I am just speaking to those thoughts and intense feelings I am working my way through as I review my life—which has been a good one, for which I am also grateful. I realize that the best part of my life was when my children were growing, when life was still ahead of me, when I thought there would be a day when……(vanishing point). I guess I have never and probably will never get over ENS (empty nest syndrome): the dearth of young and eager voices, daily laughter, tears, the necessary things to accomplish and fun things to plan, the closeness of human warmth and love–the great joy-bringer and deep ache-maker: the one thing worth believing in, living and dying for.
Love is the blossom, the wing, the star of life—that opens us, lifts us and rays out from within us and shines upon us. It is what I hope to still feel and know when I shuffle off this mortal coil. Love may be the thing that brings us back to this green earth—Love and atonement for the love we could have given and received.
I guess the dilemma about life and death is that right here and now:
I am this unique person, this one time, in this particular place, with these seven parts to play on this world stage, with this family, its children and grandchildren—and even with reincarnation—next time, I won’t be this me, with this life and these children—with their faces I have loved to look upon.
These are the things I think about as I am getting old(er)—silly as they may be in the face of a universe of wisdom (ultimately beyond my comprehension)—a universe of mystery and meaning (beyond my reason). Is this how it is supposed to be? Well, this is how it is, and IS good enough for me in this lifetime. I will say, “YES” To a life filled with loss and filled with Love.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.