The Dalai Lama says that, while he knows nothing about death, not having died, that he imagines it a “new outfit, a new set of clothes.” Wordsworth the poet said almost the same thing, “death is moving into a new room.” Jesus people say, “O Death, where is thy Sting?”(I Corinthians 15:55)
We know that Tyler Clemente and Trayvon Martin are dead and we are not naive about who else will kill whom else. We know about Colorado killings and Tucson killings and Newtown killings and we know we don’t want to even have to name everybody. We know about the sting of death, especially that worst kind of death, useless death, the kind that has no point and just stings and stings and stings, the way a bullet first hurts a child and then goes on to haunt a family.
We also know that the dead alert and compost the living into new ways of being. The dead help us get clear, clear enough to live beyond the sting. While haunting us, they also fertilize us to unsentimental appreciation for life and breath. We get unstung and we almost never know how. We know the process of release from pain and marvel at why it took so much death to get changes in gun laws or a tad of release from racism. We muse on what a useful death can be in a world of such extensive uselessness.
We begin to see that death had its name on our own resume before we even got to update it. Someone asked Arianna Huffington if she was going to write a memoir and she quipped, “Aren’t they for dead people?” Yes, they are for dead people but once you write the story down, you don’t have to carry it around any more either. Once you write the memoir, by dying early to an achieving self, you are lighter. You might even begin to have a useful life heading towards a useful death.
So many people say to me: “I don’t feel good about what I’m not getting done.” The best advice I ever got as an organizer was to go lie down in a field and watch a carrot grow. When I could do that, people were willing to trust me as a leader. Before I could do that, I was just pushing them around, packaging them into justice and peace packages, all destined to assuage my own terror about my unwritten memoir. Teja Cole calls this the White Savior Industrial Complex. When you live there, you are already dead.
The second best advice I got from another organizer was that the pace of coveted change was directly proportional to the pace of trust. People who have been violently harmed – stung by senselessness – move slow towards trust. Like a carrot grows. They move from useless to useful death. Some even cry the great resurrection song, “O Death, where did your sting go?”
By The Reverend Dr. Donna Schaper