When Death Comes and How to Live Today

How can we live meaningful lives today so that when death comes we might reflect that we did indeed live life to the full? Jesus is said to have expressed the purpose of his ministry in this way.

How can we live meaningful lives today so that when death comes we will rest knowing that we did what was to be done? Buddha is said to have often framed the work of the dharma practitioner in this way.

Yes, death will come.

A Zen student who works as an emergency room doctor told me recently that he had seen many people die and turning to his upcoming death and mine, he said, “One thing I’m quite sure about – it’s gonna hurt.”

This planet is very skilled at churning up and transforming everything.

Walking with dog Bodhi in the woods near our house, I’m aware that we walk on and with and as eons of hurt and joy, living and dying.

Yet, there’s hardly a noticeable trace to show for all this wildness but a clump of dirt and some life form quietly waiting in the deep winter darkness and cold for the warmth of the far-off star we call the sun.

Our species and all those near to us – from the Neanderthals to the Denisovans to those yet unnamed – for all our struggles and travels, adaptations and stories, we leave a small part of a child’s forefinger. Or a single bit of a jaw bone. A partial strand of genetic code. A word passed from mouth to mouth, morphing through the generations. A tiny contribution selflessly offered to what is to come.

Reaching back – or forward – groping for a pillow in the dark.

So, dear reader, how will you live today?

I suggest finding the razor’s edge of your practice and sitting upright just as that. There’s no time to be timid about it. It is passing so quickly.

Here’s a poem from last week’s “Writer’s Almanac:”

Reading the Letters of the Dead

by Jennifer Michael Hecht

Why were the dead so timid while
they lived? In mind, they step in

groans; toes en pointe to test the sand.
Despite traversing seas and rushing

gold—they still seem cautious
to a madness. Why did they not act

more like us? I kid. Still, why were
the dead so timid while they lived?

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