Today I visited with an older couple, both in their late 70s. I haven’t seen them in a few years, and it occurred to me that they are aging in different ways. The husband has a grace about him – a slightly creaky but proud, upright man, still with a crease in his slacks, an ironed seersucker sport shirt and worn but well shined shoes. All of that is no doubt the remnants of his military and police work. The wife is aging in a crash-and-burn, fall-down-the-stairs kind of way – as though she is getting ready to slide into home plate and jump up, dust off her slacks and holler, “Woohoo – that was FUN!!”
It got me thinking about how I want to spend the next 40 years of my life. The other day my daughter and I went to my sister’s grave to tidy up and make sure it looked good for when my parents visit this weekend. We got to talking about death and dying and final resting places. I reminded her I wanted to be cremated and have my ashes sprinkled on a body of water somewhere; put me back into the cycle of the earth. Then we discussed funny things I want people to say at my funeral. My favorite line was, “Damn it, Mom, I told you you couldn’t outrun a cheetah!”
Death is part of life. I was going to get all metaphor-ish and explain my view on life and death in a philosophical way. But that struck me as pointless. When you start at one end of a loaf of bread, you’re eventually going to get to the last piece and that’s the end of the loaf. Everyone knows that and it should come as no surprise to anyone. It’s how we approach that last slice that matters. Do we eat crumb by crumb, miserly portioning out the last piece or do we throw the whole thing in the toaster and eat it with butter and honey, making that last slice as sweet as the first?
One of the most valuable things I ever did in my life was take a course at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY. It was led by Elizabeth Lesser, cofounder of Omega and now frequent guest on the O channel. At the conclusion of the workshop she led us on a guided meditation of our own death. Walking up a mountain, carrying the luggage of our lives, putting down the bags one by one, so when we reached the cloud line and walked through the clouds, we were free and unencumbered, ready to experience what was on the other side. It was a liberating experience, one that eradicated the fear I occasionally experienced.
Fear can be defined as “alarm or agitation caused by expectation of danger”. This certainly explains how a lot of people feel about death and the unknown. However, fear can also be defined as “awe or reverence”. That is how I choose to approach the next 40 years of my life. Living fully, cramming as much butter and honey as I can into every day, appreciating my approaching last day with reverence and awe (and excitement) for what comes next.
Albert Einstein said somewhat irreverently, “The fear of death is the most unjust of all fears, for there’s no risk of accident for someone who’s dead.” Let’s all work to lose the fear and age in that crash-and-burn way like the woman I saw this morning. So, let’s all pick up our skirts, run like hell for home plate and slide, baby, slide!
* * * * *