For All Those Who Have Died
Today is not a day for costumes and masks, for tricks or treats or candy.
We live in a culture which fears death and dying. Some of us like to put a smiling face on death, to turn a day for all those who have died into a holiday for children. We may even try to slide our way through today, as if it were merely the beginning of retail season.
No matter how we marked yesterday, today is a more contemplative day. Today we listen to all those who have died.
We take time today, as often as we like, to remember. Each of us has been given life from those who have died. Today we stop to breathe deeply, draw in the stillness around us, and think about how they shaped us.
We never met some of those who have died. It is overwhelming to recognize the generations of people who came before we did. There were also billions of people who live and die far from us, who we could never meet.
Some of those who have died were people we knew. We met them and may have been related to them. They were our friends or people with whom we worked. Some of us knew people a long time ago who went their own ways and eventually died.
There are also people we know who have died during the last year. Our memories of them are still fresh in our minds and hearts. We may recall the final time we talked or when we saw their smile for the last time.
Today is a day for them, for all those who have died. Our practice for today is remembering and being grateful for how they shape and strengthen us.
Those We Never Met Who Have Died
People we never met make our lives possible.
Today I think about my ancestors I never knew. It is a day for contemplating who they were and how they accomplished what they did. Why did they come to this country? What were their hopes and dreams which kept them working and moving toward their goals?
I also think about all the people who wrote words which have inspired me. My walls are lined with shelves of books, and there have been many more before them. The people who wrote those books who have died have each taught me and given me lessons to learn.
The people who made the movies or performed the music which inspire us who have died continue to spark the fire in our hearts. Certain scenes from particular movies or specific verses from songs help us understand who we have the potential to become.
For us it might be people in Louisville or Pittsburgh, in Sandy Hook or Las Vegas or at Pulse in Orlando.
It is easy for us to forget, or ignore, how people we have never met contribute to our lives. People who lived long ago who I never met inspired me to go to school and become who I am today. Each of them has an investment in the people we become tomorrow.
Those We Knew Who Have Died
Some of us take time today to remember and give our thanks for people we knew who have died.
For some of us it is parents or grandparents, biological or adoptive. There may be teachers or mentors or friends who have shaped our lives who have died.
I will spend time today remembering and reflecting on my parent and grandparents and teachers. There are aunts and uncles and cousins as well as some of my closest friends who have died.
I will be grateful today for one of my best friends who was like the brother I never had. We met when we worked together and came to trust each other. We were able to talk about everything; work, our families, politics, God, and anything else. Shared a sense of humor, we helped each other through job changes, law school, marriages, and other challenges large and small. I was the best man at his wedding, the godfather of his first son, and helped plan his surprise birthday party.
After I moved to California I learned he had brain cancer. I flew back to spend a weekend with him in the hospital. He was in a lot of pain the last time I saw him, but he still laughed when he saw me.
I will take time today to remember and be grateful to those I knew who have died.
Those Who Have Died This Year
This year, like each year, those who have died leave empty spaces within us and in the world around us.
A woman with whom I met to pray each Friday evening died several months ago. She was a brilliant woman and a witty conversationalist who spent the last year and a half of her life in home hospice care. She taught me a great deal about living well and dying well.
Two men who inspired my exploration of monastic life both died in the last couple of months.
Robert Hale, a monk at New Camaldoli Hermitage where I am an Oblate, died from a severe head injury at the end of August. He was in the hospital when I was on retreat at New Camaldoli earlier that month, but I will never forget his smile. He shaped me by his writings, our conversations, and his example.
Thomas Keating, a monk at a Trappist monastery in Colorado, was one of the fathers of Centering Prayer. He shaped me through his writings, watching him speak, and praying with him.
Both men inspire me and I miss them both.
How will we remember and consider those who have died today?
When can we take time to think about how those who have died make our lives possible today?
[Image by m3lty]
Greg Richardson is a spiritual life mentor and leadership coach in Southern California. He is a recovering attorney and university professor, and a lay Oblate with New Camaldoli Hermitage near Big Sur, California. Greg’s website is StrategicMonk.com, and his email address is StrategicMonk@gmail.com.