Making Friends with Death 4

Be Where You Are
What you are, is not that story your mind continuously fabricates -- the story with you as the hero. What you are is . . . well, everything.

Impending death can make that awareness vivid, in the way it made the strawberry so sweet for the man trapped by tigers. A young Canadian, age 22, was a soldier in World War II. He was captured by the Nazis in Denmark, charged with smuggling arms, and sentenced to death. On the evening before his execution he wrote his final letter. He wrote to his mother:
“I know you are a courageous woman and you will bear this [news of my pending execution], but, hear me, it is not enough to bear it. You must understand it. I am an insignificant thing, and my person will soon be forgotten, but the thought, the life, the inspiration that filled me will live on. You will meet them everywhere – in the trees at springtime, in people who cross your path, in a loving little smile.”
That young man saw that the real him was everything: trees, people, smiles -- and also weeds, mud, mosquitoes, and tears -- the whole catastrophe. Death means that one brain stops fabricating a story about itself. The true you, isn’t that story. It’s "mountains and rivers and the great wide earth, the sun, and the moon, and the stars" -- and everything.

Our seventh principle says there is an interdependent web of existence of which you are a part. Let us say rather that there is an interdependent web of existence of which you are the whole thing. It’s all you.

I don’t know if you’re with me on that. Before I started practicing, that kind of talk would have seemed nonsensical to me. But I simply want to tell you today about my own experience. So let me tell you about one more episode -- another ah-ha moment.

About three years before that day in Midland, I had gone to my first week-long meditation retreat. It was in Tucson, Arizona. After the retreat was over, I caught a ride with someone back home to El Paso. Now, up until that point, I had been a person that really wanted a long life. I was intensely curious about how history would unfold – what new technologies would come along, would we figure out a way to end war, would we distribute the food we’ve got and end hunger, would gender equality really happen, and what would that be like? I wanted to live long enough to see as much of that as I could. I wanted to be there when the future came. Riding in the passenger seat of that pick-up truck, through the Sonoran desert, across into the Chihuahuan desert, I was gazing up at some mountains in the distance when it hit me. Nothing very ecstatic this time, just a gentle yet clear dawning: “Oh, yeah. I will be. I will be there when the future comes, when any future comes, because if anyone’s there, then that’s me.”

On that day, I let go for good of any particular desire for a long life. Let me just be here now, is all I ask. And as Yom Kippur has signaled the beginning of the Jewish New Year, that is my new year’s wish for you: may you just be where you are.

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This is part 4 of 4 of "Making Friends with Death"
Previous: Part 3
Beginning: Part 1
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