Thursday, December 27, 2012

Dan vs. Death

Tuesday before breakfast, my mother told us: I think if I needed away to kill myself, I'd walk out into the winter snow and lie down.

Cheery topic for Christmas morning.

Right now there are several billion people on the planet. In a hundred years, nearly all of them will be dead.

I will be dead. Everyone I know will also be gone: my friends from high school, the drivers of the cars that pass my apartment window, Even my nephew, who is only seventeen months old.

Barack Obama and George W. Bush. Chris Brown and Rihanna. Bill Gates, Billy Bob Thornton, and Billy Joel. All the judges and contestants on American Idol and the woman who played Charlotte on Sex and the City. The guy who fixed my tap. The three teenagers swearing too loudly by the mall exit and the woman with the baby carriage shooting them dirty looks.

In a hundred years, people will have died who have not even been born yet.

Death can happen at any time.

That kind of freaks me out. How am I supposed to be ready? If I’m going to die, I want to be dressed appropriately.

Considering that it happens to everybody, there sure isn’t a lot out there about dying. You would think since we only get once chance at it, people would want to practice at least a couple times to make sure they get it right when the time comes.

Then again, all of us are born, but if watching my nephew is any indication, a lot of life doesn’t come naturally either. It’s confusing and it takes some time to figure out: Shapes! Gravity (Ow!)! Applesauce (Yum)!

It’s fun to watch my nephew work his way through figuring out life’s basics. It’s also heartbreaking to watch him suffer, especially when he has no idea why. He doesn’t know what sick is. All he knows is he can’t breathe and his nose is running. The look in his eyes says everything: Why is this happening to me?

At least when we’re born, most of us have people who came before us to help us learn how to live. Of course, what we don’t learn until we become caregivers ourselves is that a lot of raising children is a combination of luck, good intentions, and educated guesswork.

I wonder if we have that with death.

I’m told not to worry. As a practicing Buddhist, there has been plenty written on death and dying in my spiritual tradition so I have plenty of wonderful teachings by many wise and enlightened beings from which to draw comfort.

That said, I can’t help but note that as wise and enlightened as these men and women were, I’m pretty sure they were all technically alive when they wrote their works of staggering insight. I can’t escape the lingering thought they didn’t have a clue what they were talking about.

I suppose time will tell. For all of us.

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