This past week, we lost a 94-year-old former US president -- known to the whole world -- and a 29-year-old former camper -- known to friends in my world. This past week, my mentor from camp and I met for lunch and discussed the unexpected death of our camper and the current status of our two husbands' health -- hers had open heart surgery, mine is being treated for a blood infection. Needless to say, we talked about how lucky we are that both our husbands are doing well and still with us. With these events -- deaths, timely and untimely, and serious health issues for our spouses in common, this past week -- it almost feels like we dodged a bullet. For now, at least.
But no one dodges that bullet. Not our presidents, our campers, our husbands or even (why would I say "even"?) us. Eventually, every single one of us succumbs. In the November 2017 issue of Lion's Roar, Buddhist teacher Judy Lief writes that death is the greatest teacher. And while it may be a topic that makes us uncomfortable to talk about, avoiding discussion of death "would take a lot of effort, because death is a persistent teacher." She goes on to say that "what death has to teach us is direct and to the point. It is profound but intimate....It interrupts ... habits of thought that entrap us in small-mindedness."
I'm not trying to bring you down. In fact, I'm trying to cheer you (and myself) up! Lief reminds us that death is our only true constant companion once we take our first breath. And in Buddhism, developing this awareness, and subsequently a relationship with it can help us to change our relationship to life. Mindful of death as a presence that is truly is the only constant in life, we can be more serious about the time that we do have. This isn't a scary thing, it's simply a real thing. Paying attention to the lessons we can learn from a heightened awareness of our constant companion's truth cuts through clinging -- clinging to our own importance, to our possessions, to our thoughts and ego. It may sound harsh but it's not meant to.
What I hope to learn from the events of this week is to be more at ease, to make a sincere contribution, to struggle less and enjoy more. I hope to act less from a place of fear (negativity, judgment, concern) and more from a place of love (contribution, appreciation, purpose, joy). I hope to learn that you and I are the same. We have the same constant companion and the same fears and loves in life. I hope to serve and honor myself by serving and honoring others.