A tuft of down

I think about death a lot.

I don’t know why, really. Life is great. I’m still close to the median age, and I like how Canadian life expectancy is climbing at about the same pace that the earth circles the sun.

It’s fair to say that I don’t want to die. My biggest fear is leaving my kids prematurely. I picture Jasper and Simon sad, lonely. Suzy would pause and move on. She’s like that. This summer I awoke with a start early one dewey Island morning in the loft at Walden and noticed a tuft of downy feather stuck to the skylight above my head. A bird had struck the window so hard it had left its deepest feathers behind. I remember thinking: That’s a bad omen. A week later a close colleague suddenly died.

I want to be one of those people who can look death in the face and not blink. I really believe that life can only be fully appreciated by being aware of the permanence and inevitability of death. The thing that sucks is that it is permanent and inevitable. And I didn’t fully understand the word ‘never’ until I came to grips with “I’ll never see you again.” Or, “I’ll never be able to sit and have coffee with you again.” Or, worst of all, “I’ll never know what you would grow up to be like.”

There’s a kinship with those gone before when the full depth of this kind of permanence is deeply contemplated. I’m into this now. I’m enjoying it, even though it’s really hard. Because deep down I know that I’ll be ‘never’ someday too.

Maybe it’s maudlin or grim to sit still to think about this, but it’s better than denial. I like to pull the astroturf off the graveside mound, and to do the shoveling myself. I knew I had to be the one to hold Angus to the very end (which was just 4 hours after the beginning), and read to Grandpa until his hand was cold. One of my biggest regrets in life is waiting after I got the call saying Dad had less than a day. I thought I had said goodbye. But when the final news came, my first thought was: “I should have called. Now it’s never.”

I guess I’m just in a weird mood tonight. I’m meditating again, and after months of frantic distraction there’s a lot of clutter to clear before I can restore some sense of balance to my busy brain. So it starts with the big stuff and, moving silently to submission, I open my arms to inevitable. And it’s OK.

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