I’ve been thinking about death recently, perhaps too much.
I suppose this makes sense; 2007 has already been a record year for me as far as suicides alone are concerned. I feel close to my mortality; the edges feel raw.
I was at a talk yesterday morning that included a digression on the problems facing our world; about Iraq, about global warming, about the struggles in our administration; about natural resources; about Africa, about change, and about what we have to look forward to in the future.
The speaker (the former director of Amnesty International) ended his impassioned speech with a paraphrase from a theologian. “In this time, we have one choice: dialogue, or death.”
There was a space, where others emptied themselves of their questions, and I sat silent until I could no longer be still. I asked, from the circle, ”Or death? Death is not optional. Death is always an ‘and.’ These stories we’ve been listening to, about the shift that’s occurring in consciousness and about how we’re waking up to what needs to be done, are beautiful, but are we not all just avoiding that we each much die? Individually, each of us, and, eventually, as a civilization and species?”
I felt immediately chagrined: dumping the skull on the banquet table is a bit of a faux pas these days. Still, most people seemed not just to forgive me, but to want to engage more with the question. The conversation that followed was rich.
Those conversations mean so much to me.
Because I don’t think at all this means I’d want to abandon any effort at gentling the world, or that I’d want to give up hope about healing; I do think that there are likely many generations to come and I feel a heartfelt obligation to make sure that I limit my contributions to the pain and suffering they’ll experience, and to do what I can to increase the joy (assuming these two are separable). But I can’t help but look at the popular apocalyptic cries of Peak Oil and the assertions that our culture is on the brink of collapse with a wry smile. Somehow I can’t help but imagine that every preceding generation believed the same. Living in a time of perceived crises means that our lives become meaningful; that we have a project; that the world depends upon us. Far better to imagine catastrophe than to admit the more likely scenario: that our generation too will die, to be subsumed in the oncoming waves of future humans, and that we too will be mostly forgotten.
I don’t know. I find, I suppose, some peace in this latter fact. It makes life, now, for me, and the meetings I have within it, all the more important.