When Death comes it will be a final opportunity for dignity. Will we clutch frantically “Can I have more?” “What else can I take?” or will we be granted the serenity to know that we were granted an entire world, an entire life of free will. Perfect your reaction now.
After a late night gig on Friday in CT and an early morning gig on Saturday in NJ, Julia and I spent our Saturday night off driving three hours to an 80’s party in North Hampton Mass. We decided that while the allure of the couch and the tube would be delightful, that we would make the effort to go see sweet friends.
On the way we listened to Bill Bryson’s memoir about the 50’s. He was discussing how society back then was indestructible. It was a group held belief that all food was good for you, that smoking and drinking was good for you. There were x-ray machines in the shoe stores to bathe you from head to toe to get your shoe size. There were bombs tested in Nevada and families in Las Vegas had picnics to watch and would line up as the men with Geiger counters came around to see how radioactive they were. It was a lark.
One of our friends from The Boxcar Lilies was throwing the 80’s party and put on Talking Heads and B-52s for us to dance to. The Lilies are three strong and in-depth women that sing and play instruments together. Their men folk are all rugged, huge- hearted talented gents. One of them, Erik Hoffner is a photographer and writer. He turned us on to Stephen Jenkinson and an interview he just published with Stephen in the latest Sun magazine.
Stephen Jenkinson is an author, a spiritual teacher, farmer and activist. His message is not that we are indestructible but are, especially in North America, suffering from “grief illiteracy.” We do not know how to acknowledge our own death or be faithful witnesses to each other’s dying. We act as if things are normal, right up to the end, “Death doesn’t burden your life. It animates your life and gives you the chance to live, because it says, “Here’s the bad news: “It’s not going to last. Here’s the good news, “It’s not going to last.”
I had mentioned during our 80’s party how important as it was as an adult to pull back in the summer, stop working long enough to experience the stillness and expansive space summer can offer. Something that we knew as kids.
Stephen Jenkinson talks about the cultures that used initiation to create a mini-death between childhood and becoming adults to teach us, respectfully, to take responsibility and transition from being self-absorbed to becoming conscious of our lives and those around us.
Pema Chodron cites the problem with going up to the mountain to transcend is that there are those who are suffering left behind. She suggests going into the heart of the earth and being able to be with the grief here.
Stephen Jenkinson also says, “There’s no withdrawing or running or transcending. Stay here. Stay long enough that the grief can have its way with you, and you begin to realize that this grief is a wisdom, a recognition that human beings are maintained by the death of other living things…Your better self is born of grief… You can live your life as someone who has an enduring obligation to that which has kept you alive.” We can remember and be human.
Last night we went into the city to see a production of The 39 Steps and the four actors playing all the parts, bringing expertise physical comedy to the adventure of life, fraught with death, brought the realization home. While we are here, we can develop ourselves and our skills and share them to the best of our ability while we can. Acknowledging the finite, we can keep the story going, pass it down through the decades and centuries to prepare the decaying quilt for future generations to marvel at and maintain. May the patch we contribute engender wonder.
Stephen Jenkinson- The Meaning of Death: