Five million. Five million! That’s how many of my cells die every second! 300 million every minute. 18 billion each hour. Three trillion every week. That’s a lot of dying! How can I possibly ignore death? Dying is what I do for a living. So why do I pretend that death hasn’t happened, that it isn’t happening now, that it will not happen again? Conception and death are the two most important things I do on planet earth. I spent many heaven-years preparing for conception, and then Aiyella, the angel of night, touched my nostrils and my upper lip, leaving permanent indentations, to remind me that I have forgotten, indeed must forget. Because the first essential step of my mission is to discover what my mission is. Being told it, doesn’t work.
Aiyella’s touch, however, created amnesia also for my dying – the thousands of times I have done this before. Like a child in summer-camp being exhorted by playmates, at the swimming pool, to go ahead and dive in off the high board, like I did successfully last year and the year before, I stand transfixed and shivering on the quivering tip of the undulating board and remember only that I haven’t done it since last year – and I’m scared. I have spent a lifetime of earth-years preparing for this death, but the preparation has been unconscious: biologically unconscious, psychologically unconscious and spiritually unconscious. Today in this meditation, I am determined to prepare consciously, lovingly, fearlessly and with full awareness.
I feel the coldness in my feet and legs and thighs and I think “I came into the world cold, shivering and gasping for breath. And now I exit the world cold, shivering and gasping for breath.” But today there is absolutely no fear. Every breath was a gift. And I took them all for granted – all the 663 million breaths of my 70 years. Now I can count the number left to me on my fingers. I may not even have to use my cold toes for the final tally. Each breath now is pure gift. But I don’t clutch at it, I honor it.
Soon breathing will no longer be necessary for me. It was part of how this extraordinary spacesuit worked. But I’m almost done with this spacesuit. I freely lay it down. I make a donation of its 70 trillion cells to planet Earth: “Come butterfly and use what you will. Welcome worm to my garage sale – the profits go to charity, to love. Take what you want. There is something here for everybody!”
And when all the molecules have been claimed and the happy hunters retire with their finds, I have yet more gifts to give. I give back to the Universe the intelligent energy that fashioned such a miracle from carbon and hydrogen and oxygen and nitrogen. “Perhaps this intelligence is of use to somebody? Maybe this energy is just what you needed for your project? Take it and be well!”I’m not done giving just yet. I have a heart, not just the fleshy chamber that beat two and a quarter billion times in my chest, but my love. “Can you use some more love? Come and drink and be filled. This is my body, this is my blood which is given for you.” My dying, Christ’s dying, your dying is a new covenant. Let us do it in memory of each other. It is a love-covenant not just a law-covenant. It binds us through lifetimes – the lifetimes we have forgotten, the one we are now about to exit, and the ones yet to be conceived in bodhisattvic orgies of compassion for all sentient beings.
Here is my body. I took it, blessed it, broke it and gave it, as Christ did at that final Passover meal. I blessed it by inhabiting it. I broke it in the sweat fields of Ireland and Africa and America – not the sweat fields of enforced labor, but the sweat fields of passionate lovemaking with all of God’s little ones. I gave it and shared it, as you, all of my sisters and brothers, gave yourselves and shared yourselves with me. And together we have sung the hymn of life.
And when the last note dwindled into the insulating embrace of the cobwebs on the rafters of our sacred Caol Áit, you and I we went forth to our garden of Gethsemane. We said YES to life. YES! YES!! YES!!! We said it and we ran to the place where death smiled on us. And we smiled back and said, “I know that I love God and I know that God loves me.” And we danced, you and I, in that moonlit arbor. And in the surfeit of ecstatic, boundless love, we lay down on the carpet of leaves and we said YES once again to death.
But there was a wistfulness to our joy, for weren’t there others of our brothers and sisters dying this night too? A frightened pedestrian watching the looming, weaving headlights of a drunkenly driven truck? A man whose skin or race or sexual orientation was “wrong” and who was now being tortured terminally in a God-forsaken alleyway? A woman whose only crime was to be beautiful in the wrong place at the wrong time, and whose decomposed corpse would lie undiscovered while the predator gloated in the remembering of the murdering? A majestic elephant hunted cruelly by swashbuckling, telescopic-gun-toting poachers in jeeps? A wild pig caught in the jaws of a vicious trap, while her uncomprehending baby continues to try to suckle?
Can we forget these as we lie here, peacefully commending our spirits to God? Is it not the same life force that courses through all of God’s creatures? Does the élan vital feel any different as it organizes the spacesuit of a daffodil, or a hippopotamus or an Olympic gymnast? So let our dying be purposeful. Let it be a sabbatical. Armed with our experiences and driven by compassion could we use our Bardo-time wisely and come back again even better equipped to love?
Where now is fear? Where anger? Now can we understand why Christ said, “I have a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how I long until it is accomplished!”? A man he was who remembered his mission. Look at the headstone newly erected over your year-old grave. See what it says? It says, “This was one who remembered the mission.”