I would be lying if I claimed I did not think about this daily. When I walk into my clinic, my pace is slow, deliberate and meditative.
I remember once walking at my usual pace, preparing for my clinic in my mind, sinking with each step into the depth of the struggles that I will face on my road that day. I remember seeing a colleague from a different discipline of medicine pass me, racing to get to the road that crossed into the hospital. He called hello and asked what I’m doing. I said “looking at the birds.” I got to the light before the crossing and there he was in his haste to get to the same spot I was. He looked at me and smiled “I should have just looked at the birds too.”
We don’t talk about it. We remove ourselves from any sort of discussion about it. It’s as real as the sun. Tell me, when could you hold your stare at the sun? It’s brief, often blinding and hard to maintain. You turn away because it’s just too much to bear. Is that why we don’t sit in circles, lecture rooms, or theatres to understand the meaning of death? Is it why we don’t talk about it, teach it to the young, and educate them about its vitality and its supremacy? I ask not about the meaning of life, for that is permissible, well-described and easily talked about. I ask about the nature of death; that paralyzing moment none of us want to face, share or discuss openly.
Are you a hole? Are you a spring, a waterfall, an avalanche, a bursting star, the string theory, gravity, or the sum of all of our acts in life?
Every living thing dies. What a mystery. What a powerful way to really see the world. To slow your pace, to “smell the roses,” to “see the birds,” to walk with deliberation, to reach your inevitable destination. While we cannot stare into the sun, can we acknowledge its singular beauty? We should find ways to stop denying this fact about humanity that all of us must die. Death might be beautiful.
Today, I saw several of my patients who circled death but continued to live. One witnessed the birth of a granddaughter and another returned back to life without even realizing that they were even in danger. I did not sit with them and reflect on the near-death experience. I just marveled at what they had accomplished by not dying the moment they could have.
You wonder why I preface each paragraph with one word? That word. I’ll tell you why. Death dictates the cadence of my walk. It’s a deliberate attempt to make you see each moment of life that passes you by, unique to each individual, your own experience with the one mystery that none of us know anything about. Would you share your experience? Would that bring you closer to the truth of our existence?
That sun never waivers, always there, always looking, always giving. Is that Death? The giver of life?
The ultimate paradox.