"I'm not afraid to die, I just don't want to be there when it happens."
When I mentioned the quote earlier that Life doesn't happen to you, it happens for you, I think that without a doubt the same is true for death. Death doesn't happen to you, it happens for you (unless you are eaten by a crocodile; that could not possibly be for you). We're all part of a much bigger set of ongoing considerations––the big picture I'm asking you to see as the context of your life.
In particular, we need to escape that one self-centered cultural definition that's leading us so far astray––that death is our obliteration. The sad, absolute cessation of Life. The final chord of a sonata that starts wonderfully well, but ends in a dirge. That idea that we only have "one go-round," "one shot at it," and then "the party's over." There's a selfishness (a "sinfulness") in that definition that prevents us from living well, from showing up for each other with the proper compassionate presence. It's a self-centeredness that insists we should be getting something we want out of it all and each other when, instead, we could be forming true partnerships with one another––an understanding global fellowship of shared human experience––and creating a sane stewardship of life here on Earth. When we can get ourselves over this delusional assumption of self-importance, we can create a much less "sinful," more evolutionarily responsible, way of living.
If we know we're missing the mark with the cultural definition of death––one that leads to the fear of losing what we want to hang on to and the "I've gotta get mine before it's all over" approach––then what is a more realistic definition? What's the proper direction in which to aim our lives? Well, Shakespeare's always good for a few spiritual bull's-eyes, like this one: Death is a consummation most devoutly to be wished! So we can see death as a lifelong goal that we struggle to attain––one that we want to meet with preparation, with humility and honor, and with open-hearted promise. It is our matriculation of sorts.
Speaking from my own experience, death is an expansion into transcendent being, for crying out loud. We need to restore death to it's rightful place as a sacred ritual of passage. Let's get kind of Egyptian with it again. Don't mourn me; send me off with an open heart and a song! This party is definitely not over.
It's absolutely essential that we show up for each other with this positive, life-affirming definition of death as a continuation of always being present. Contrary to what Woody Allen might request, you must never take a raincheck for anyone's dying. (That's the only "must" in the book.) While we supposedly have much busier lives than ever, that's just an illusion caused by technology. The really important parts of our lives are still what's really important. Put the business aside. What technology is best suited for is efficiently arranging our lives around those important people and occasions, so that we can maintain close contact with the loved ones involved in all of our momentous life events––making the appropriate reservations, booking the trip, and being there; contributing whatever you possibly can; showing up in a way that honors Life's real connections of the heart; bringing Love right up to the surface, front and center where it belongs. Again, it's not about me; it's about we.
Notice how when we're "coming to the end" of our time in this life with someone we love or for ourselves, just how precious and how special that remaining time together suddenly is. How intensely focused our love and appreciation for each other becomes in those few moments that are left. We need to try to treat each other that way all the time, and grow spiritually together in that kind of Love. We need to recognize the eternal in each other, always. That's what's really important here; everything else is a distant second place. These may be lofty ideals, granted, but pursuing them throughout our lives is time well spent, and leads to a sense of fulfillment that can never be matched in any other way.
From the time we reach that more adult perception we start to come upon as teenagers, to the time we lay ourselves down, our essential spirit remains generally young and energetic––especially in pursuing our passion for Life. It's just our bodies that atrophy, that break down and require costly repairs––or that just quit running. Our spirits, our eternal selves, always feel youthful. They're always ready to keep growing upward and onward, and so they do. That essential part of us can only collapse under the weight of selfish self-centeredness and that oppressively off-the-mark definition of death––and the negative effect it can have on the last third of our lives––when we permit those attitudes to define us as limited.
The truth is that we always have that unflappable, limitless hope that comes along with youth. Just scratch the surface and, like Love, it's always there. We've also got all that blind faith that we don't hardly notice enough even to take for granted when we're young. And, although it seems somehow harder to come by as we age, there's also more evidence of that faith as we grow older. Hope, and faith are real working spiritual mechanisms that are always alive, and always will be in all of our lives. And if you just add grace to those two, then you've got my three favorite names for girls.
This selection is excerpted from the chapter "A Baby Boom Goes Boom," from How to Survive Life (and Death), A Guide for Happiness In This World and Beyond based on the observations of a three-time near death experience survivor; available now from Conari Press.