A 53 year-old friend was recently struck down. Out swimming 300 yards offshore in the crystal blue ocean, he was hit suddenly, unexpectedly by a harbor-bound boat. The craft’s occupants plucked him from the deep where he had sustained multiple lacerations from their motor, and he was helicoptered to the nearest hospital, where, four hours later, he was pronounced dead. Two days passed and the newspaper reported the accident in a single paragraph on page ten.
Thus ends the life of this gentle husband, provider and friend. Unremarkable news, as he was not famous nor was he well known in the community. One day after the article appears there is no trace in the paper, nor can I locate further details by Googling. Likely this event will fade for all but a very few, replaced by news on the iPad2, harbor parking and the Hokulia bypass. His widow, a small private Korean woman, does not answer their phone, doubtless bereft with gut-wrenching grief, sobbing until she is amazed the human body can still produce tears. One imagines her twisting in torment, going over every word, every gesture as well as the lack of words and gestures of their final hours together. Stunned and numb and alone in the big beautiful home they created together, the exquisite pieces of art and treasured oriental antiques may ironically appear irrelevant.
The move to Hawaii was his dream. She had been missing friends in the Bay area, missing a house that didn’t require constant cleaning from the dust and mold endemic to the islands. If she chose to return to that place, their imprint in our little town would rapidly dissolve into memory. Most people in this community did not know her husband who worked from home and rarely socialized. His one outlet was the ocean. Swimming. My husband was left wondering if they had had cross words as their last. He was touched to tears with this thought, and how fragile and tenuous the threads that bind us, one to the other. I was in a more collective hemisphere, noticing people in a rush to get somewhere or nowhere, none of us knowing how quickly our lives could end.
It can happen at the speed of light.
Death is frightening for many who spend much of waking life racing to blot out any thought of it. I ponder it most every day. There are those who would consider this odd, melancholy, depressing. Some would say I’m courting disaster, but I disagree. I am not dwelling in the house of death, I am dancing life, waking fully to the beauty of existence in every moment. Keeping death in my sights sharpens my wits, focuses my intentions, clears my head of the inessential and prunes the mental overgrowth which falls away, more and more. It is, I would say, more important to my spiritual practice than mantras or prayers or meditation could possibly be. Living with death in view keeps my heart open, my words kind, my soul tender. These lyrics spring now to mind, in memory of those we too quickly forget:
Life, so they say, is but a game and we let it slip away.
Love, like the Autumn sun, should be dying, but it’s only just begun.
Like the twilight in the road up ahead, we don’t see just where we’re going.
All the secrets in the Universe, whisper in our ears
And all the years will come and go, take us up, always up.
We may never pass this way again.
~ Seals and Crofts