My mother sent me every self-help book there ever was, the good ones too; Women Who Run With the Wolves, Trapped in the Mirror, The Undiscovered Self, Intimacy with God, etc.
I kept them.
I put them on my nightstand.
I never read them.
Sometimes, as I did with my high school science textbooks, I’d put them under my pillow in hopes that their wisdom would seep into my soul by virtue of their close proximity.
I almost flunked Science, and I can’t say I have made much spiritual progress.
But recently many people I love dearly have been dying and I have needed some wisdom from the ancients and the poets to guide me, give me comfort, and to ground myself in what is true.
So here are a few things that are helping me process death and in so doing are helping me process life, because right now they feel very intertwined. After all, part of being fully alive is being open to dying.
One of my friends keeps a small journal on which she has written, “Maranasati,” a Buddhist concept and practice, which translates as “mindful dying” or “mindfulness in death.” From this journal she shared this Haiku poem by Ensei on dying with me:
How leisurely the cherry
Blossoms bloom this year, unhurried
By their doom
“Unhurried by their doom.” Yes, that’s me, going about my short life, doing what I do, blooming and knowing that death is right around the corner.
As one of my sisters would say to me, “Uh duh now, Flicka, what did you think was happening?” I know, I know, but my face feels pressed up hard against the seeming paradox that as we are living, we are dying.
Mary Oliver has a poem called “When Death Comes,” which sums up how I want to live and how I want to die:
When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was a bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened
or full of argument.
I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.
I am not married to amazement in my everyday life- AT ALL. I am married to fear, also panic, also anger. It’s kind of an unhealthy ménage à trois. But wouldn’t that be great – to be MARRIED TO AMAZEMENT?
And finally, my Mother took great comfort and courage in her belief in life after death. I don’t know if it’s true, that life is eternal, but here follows a piece read at a powerful memorial service. It is a poem written by Henry Holland, Canon of St. Paul’s Cathedral 1847 – 1918:
Death is nothing at all.
I have only slipped away to the next room.
I am I and you are you.
Whatever we were to each other,
That, we still are.
Call me by my old familiar name.
Speak to me in the easy way
which you always used.
Put no difference into your tone.
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.
Laugh as we always laughed
at the little jokes we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me. Pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word
that it always was.
Let it be spoken without effect.
Without the trace of a shadow on it.
Life means all that it ever meant.
It is the same that it ever was.
There is absolute unbroken continuity.
Why should I be out of mind
because I am out of sight?
I am but waiting for you.
For an interval.
Somewhere. Very near.
Just around the corner.
All is well.
I love that, “All is well.” Or as my husband, the eternal optimist says, “All is swell!”
Anne Lamott, whom I love and revere, writes, “Astonishing material and revelation appear in our lives all the time. Let it be. Unto us, so much is given. We just have to be open for business.”
In this New Year I want to be open for business. I really do.
So I wanted to ask the WTF community what guidance has been helpful to you; poems, narratives, psalms or books?
If you are willing to share (cause it is kind of scary to admit what helps us) please let me know. I could use the help right now. I promise to really read it and not just put it under my pillow.
May we all be open for business 2014.
Love and Happy New Year,