Sunday, June 22, 2014

Death is Just: Meditations on Death, Part III

The reverberations of my father's death continue to echo through me. It is a meal to be digested slowly; and so many flavors in it take time to be known well.

Our deaths are just; we are not good enough. We should remember men and women not just for their good deeds, but for their bad ones; and more so in death. I was never much for the funerals held by hypocrites, where sinners are whitewashed to accomodate all the grieving relatives. Far better—or at least more truthful, to be certain—the anti-celebrations described by Mr. Gurdjieff in his third series, whereby those who knew the dead gather for three days to remind one another of their mortal sins.

We are not good enough; and mortality is given to remind me that I grasp too hungrily this paradise of life, which I breathe in and use as though it were my own. I'm barely able, even in a life of prayer, to come to a tiny fraction of appreciation for the miracle I'm given; I may catch whiff of it now and then, if I'm lucky, in a blue jay's liquid warble or the flight of an oriole; but by and large the beauty and wonder of it all escapes me. Even if Grace allows me to touch it for a moment, Grace comes and goes by its own laws and tides, and my shores are wetted and dried only by its own motion, not ours. Something is taken from me when loved ones die; and if I am truthful with myself, I deserve the loss. It's only by that loss I can know how far short I fall.

In a certain sense, we are all good men and women; and yet the fundament is soiled and broken. Born in the pure ground of God, I lose sight of it; and spend a lifetime trying to return.

My father was in some pragmatic sense an apostate—he did not believe in an afterlife, and groused about it so frequently the minister (a man of potentially disturbing practicality) brought it up at his funeral, not once, but twice—as though the congregation needed a proper shock, to be delievered by remembered irascibility. I think the contrarian spirit of my father moved him then; but no matter. In the last half-hour of his life, gasping his way into eternity one belabored breath after another, my father, propper up at forty-five degrees, suddenly raised his head off the pillow and opened his eyes.

This was remarkable because he had had his eyes closed for nearly a full day by this time; he was uncommunicative, unresponsive, motionless except for the occasional nervous spasm that ran through his body in an electric current, contracting his arms and fingers. There was little or no strength in him; yet he raised his head, and his eyes— ravaged for years by diabetes until he could no longer see— opened wide,

and they saw.

They saw, oh, they saw; and one could see the light they saw in them, could see the absolute astonishment and the unequivocal comprehension that dawned in those eyes as they looked out over the abyss of the grave into the other side.

This moment includes everything one has been; there is the instant where one comprehends not only what heaven consists of, but what one's own Being is made of. In that moment, we're all found wanting; and it's only the mercy of death that delivers us from this life of sin into a world where we have, perhaps, a chance of reconstruction: a resurrection into life of the spirit where we can finally reconnect with the divine, much better than the flesh can do.


So what strikes me, a week out from my father's death, is not the ordinary, banal nature of it all; although that element is there. It is the sheer nobility of death; and this comes in a measure most difficult to appreciate. It isn't possible to understand why Gurdjieff called it a sacred process—the scared roscooarno— unless one experiences it firsthand in such a manner. 

Only then does one realize how carefully orchestrated the process is; and how well met.

Hosanna.

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