She had fallen in the laundry room. Her legs were suddenly simply not under her. It was evening and no one was about. She waited, hoping someone would come but they didn’t. Finally, she managed to crawl to a nearby chair and pull herself up. She appeared at the door to the Commons Room where we were playing cards and said, “Help me.” And we did.
As we waited for her son to come, she said she was so discouraged. She had been independent all her life. The doctor wanted her in the hospital. She didn’t want to go.
I live in a senior facility and death is all around us. We don’t do memorial services; we manage our grief in our own way. One day a friend is here, the next he or she is in the hospital or moved to assisted living or gone. Life goes on. And then it doesn’t.
Part of the personal work I’ve been doing the last four years is to adapt my thinking so the idea of death is not frightening to me. It is, after all, the one thing we each have to do alone. We may have comfort around us, but the journey is one only we can take. I thought it handled but the closer I come to having it be my turn, the more reassurance I seek.
On being translated
The very day this incident happened, I had read a passage in a novel that so touched me that I looked up the entire work on the internet. It is from metaphysical poet John Donne’s Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions: “All mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated.” I liked the idea of being translated.
A composer hears a melody in his mind and writes it on a music staff. A musician comes along and translates those notes into a melody that has the same notes, but bears the imprint of the player. And all of it, the original idea, the bringing it to tangible form and the interpretations of it into music is how we touch each other’s lives.
How is your life being translated?
As the composer, we can write down any notes we wish. They can be fast or slow, loud or soft, jarring or soothing. We offer our notes to the world. Musicians in our life approach us and interpret our music in different ways. They may hear our joy or respond to our sadness. They may resonate to our insights or become inspired by our enthusiasm. That is why it’s hard to know how your life is being translated here on the physical plane. All we can do is write our music from our heart and send it forth with love.
But back to being a chapter in a book.
“Mankind is of one author, and is one volume.” I am comforted by the concept of being a strand in the web of life with each strand vital to the whole. I like the idea that we are all one energy contained in the individual vases of our bodies and when the vase breaks, we are still that one energy. I resonate to being a drop in the universal ocean, a part of the grand whole. When I reflect on “ when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated.” I like the idea of being translated into a better language.
The metaphors of death
These are all metaphors to describe death, the struggle of the human mind to give voice to the unvoicable, to understand a difference between living and dying when there is no difference. In the Second Book of Tao Stephen Mitchell says, “The pivot of the Tao is the mind free of its thoughts. There is nothing here to limit you, no one here to draw a circumference. In fact, there’s no one here – not even you.” In my humanness, I continue to deepen my awareness and connection to Tao. I observe my times of deep meditation and wonder if that is as close to oneness as I can get from my physical body.
In 365 Tao Meditations Deng Ming-Dao speaks of being on a Threshold (226) “Death is not an ending. It is a transformation. What dies is only our sense of identity, which was false to begin with. Death is the threshold of this life. Beyond it is something else, some mystery. We can only be sure that it is unlike this life.” On Death (49) he writes “In its realm, time ceases to have meaning. All laws of physics become irrelevant. Death is the opposite of time. Nothing of the person dies in the sense that the constituent parts are totally blasted from all existence. What dies is merely the identify, the identification, of a collection of parts that we called a person.”
What comforts you?
Are you exploring your own concepts of death? What comforts you when a loved one moves from this physical plane? What do you think will happen when it is your turn to leave? No one knows. What beliefs or expectations will comfort you?
I like the idea of being an essential element of the All-That-Is that has taken on a human body for this small portion of time. I may be here to help my core self learn a lesson. I may be here to be a gift in the lives of others. I don’t know. What I can do is develop a practice of self-cultivation that leads me to some understanding even through the limits of my humanness. Rumi tells us to “Live in the nowhere that you came from, even though you have an address here.”
I’m willing to return to the nowhere that I come from. I’m willing to have my chapter in this book of life translated into a better language. While a await my journey, I’m going to continue to see if I can sing a deeper song.