At age 92 and facing reality and natures laws, I know that my days are now “dwindling down to a precious few.” (September Song). I write my reflections on this subject as an essay as my gift to you. In all my years as an ordained minister in the Presbyterian and Congregational Churches, and my own unique Sunday Symposiums from Santa Rosa, CA to Palm Springs, CA, the one question that has been asked me THOUSANDS of times is… “BILL, WHAT IS YOUR FEELING ABOUT DEATH… AND BEYOND… WHAT DO YOU THINK REALLY HAPPENS?”
Many Christian churches have promoted and thrived on a FEAR of death and dying and the JUDGEMENT that goes with it from a “hit man” anthropomorphic “God”. The biblical St. Paul writes, “The last ENEMY that shall be overcome is death.” In Buddhism, Zen and Taoism, they laugh at this absurdity and stupidity of DEATH as an ENEMY. How could anything as NATURAL as death be an enemy? EVERY living organism dies. It is a natural and beautiful part of birth and life. I totally agree, and as a former lecturer in Eastern thought on this subject find the archaic “fear” and “judgment” preached by many Christian pastors illiterate, insulting, degrading, cruel and outrageous.
Another “gift” to you is my strong suggestion that, if this is a subject you want to pursue, you read a brilliant book “Being with Dying: Cultivating Compassion and Wisdom in the Presence of Death” by my dear friend Joan Halifax who was the assistant to Joseph Campbell, when I spent a month studying with them. Joan is now a Zen priest (Roshi), with a doctorate in Anthropology, who founded the Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and one of the most amazing and brilliant people I have ever known. This book is a MUST for you on this subject. In Buddhism greed, hatred, ignorance and delusion are called the four poisons. Buddha taught that it’s precisely these self-involved poisons that feed our suffering and fear of death. One can change the poisons into medicines… through the exercise of generosity, charity and fearlessness. Pictured is Joan Halifax Roshi with the Dalai Lama.
On a lighter side is an observation by one of my heroes, STANLEY KUNITZ, twice chosen Poet Laureate of the United States, who was asked as he approached his 100th birthday… what were his thoughts about his approaching death? His answer: “Well… I don’t lose any sleep over it…”
Another of my “heroes” CARL JUNG, as he approached 90 years of age, said what I feel now as I approach 100. “An unconditional YES to the acceptance of my own nature, as I happen to be. We may think there is a sure road, but that would be the road of death. Anyone who takes the sure road is as good as dead. I understood early how important it is to affirm one’s own destiny. I am satisfied with the course my life has taken. How could I have experienced so much? Much might have been different if I myself had been different. But it was as it had to be, for it all came about because I AM AS I AM.”
Never has it been better said than by that giant thinker and Renaissance man, Carl Jung. It is a very accurate mirror of my own reflections as I travel the road toward 100. Both of my doctors told me only this week that I am good to hit 100… with no prescription pills… super blood pressure… and a brain and mind still SHARP, ALERT, AWAKE AND AWARE. So on that 100th birthday, will be my good glass of wine, a small cigar, a little music by Carlos Jobim… and a great Joyful cry of GRATITUDE to the Mystery of the Universe.
It is VIKTOR FRANKL, the legendary psychiatrist, who gave me my closing thoughts on these “reflections”. “Death is what gives MEANING to Life… for without death, life would be meaningless. It would make no difference if you did a thing today or a thousand years from today. With death just ahead, every moment becomes more precious, and not to be wasted. Minor issues and little petty resentments and anger become just a meaningless and stupid waste of time and energy. The precious moments left are so few, with death waiting. Why kiss my tombstone… when instead I can choose to say… “I love you”.
Dear friends and readers of my columns and essays… this has been my gift to you today… for whatever it is worth to you. My very own personal and private reflections on my own death, just up the road a bit and without an ounce of Fear or anxiety. But only with the Joy of the closing Mystery. LIFE, SO CALLED, IS ONLY A BRIEF INTERLUDE BETWEEN TWO GREAT MYSTERIES, WHICH ARE YET… ONE.