Welcome to my first column in The Edge. Thanks to all who have read previous articles and sent me notes or spoken to me in person. I appreciate your appreciation and I appreciate you too. So, it’s with a certain degree of delicious irony that I’m celebrating a beginning by talking about endings.
I have always been intrigued by death. Even as a child, I would imagine what it was like to die in particular ways – a car speeding into a brick wall. Death by electrocution. Nuclear war. Nuclear war was a big one, because I lived on an air base in North Dakota. I knew exactly which buildings could withstand a nuclear blast. I wondered how quickly I could get there and how much food they had.
I’d also imagine the reactions from others. Some people would cry, some would be angry. And, yes, some would regret not being nice to me. (Remember, I was a small child thinking this.)
Now, I didn’t want to die. Nor, did I repeat scenarios over and over in my brain. Once I understood the dynamics, I moved on (unless it was a sword or ninja fight, and I was the hero). It was as if my little child mind was practicing these real-world possibilities and I was mentally preparing myself. I was curious about what my senses would sense, and the feelings I would have.
I never worried about what was on the other side. Oddly enough, I knew. I’d read spiritual stories and I could feel the energy of the universe pouring into me. I knew that goodness was over there, but I also knew that goodness was over here, we’d just have to work to reveal it.
As I grew older, I realized if I thought about someone’s death, I cared about them. I would mull it over in my mind because I did not want to be blind-sided. I would practice releasing and understanding the pain. In hindsight, I realize why I went in this direction – my parents’ generation seemed to show their love by being afraid. They could quickly tell us what could go wrong, but sadly, they were keeping us “safe” at the expense of living.
Finally, while in college, I was listening to an NPR show and the guest was a mortician/author saying that the world was separated into two camps: Those who think about death all the time and those who never do. I can’t remember what the percentage split was. Maybe it was 80/20 (life/death) or 60/40. But my mind instantly expanded! Before that moment, the ratio was “the world”/me. I finally realized I wasn’t alone, and I also realized I wasn’t morbid. Profoundly, beautifully, I realized my relationship with death helped inform my life. It was like someone opened the door and the light streamed in.
After hearing this, I had to find out more. I asked people which camp they were in. What did they think about death? The majority didn’t think about death at all and I’d ask why? And, I’d get a variety of answers: They didn’t need to, it’s depressing, they’re focused on life, there were many deaths in the family, it frightens them, they don’t want to die, they don’t want to know, they aren’t worried, they don’t care, they fear that thinking about death will bring it upon them.
Since then, and after working with so many clients on their fears, I’ve come to realize that death is easy. It’s living that takes time, ingenuity and a leap of faith. In fact, “death” can be the end of anything: the loss of a job, the end of a relationship, the selling of a house. It is all relative; it is the loss of anything that gives our life meaning.
In fact, that is why I have developed gratitude. If there is ever an antidote for death or change, it’s possible that it is gratitude. It is gratitude for what was, what will be and what has ever existed.
I am grateful for death because it has taught me that nothing is forever. It has taught me to appreciate my family, my friends, my life. It has taught me to persevere and develop a stronger faith. It has taught me to share my appreciation and love with others. In fact, whenever I hear the phrase “killing time,” I wince. Time is so precious, so valuable.
Today, I don’t mull over death so much anymore, but it’s still a part of my awareness, my appreciation of life. Thank you death for teaching me about life.
Copyright © 2010 Susan Just. All Rights Reserved.