GNL number 96

a report of doings at meeting #96, Sunday, July 19, 2015
including liturgical items, major themes, and other odds and ends

INVOCATION

The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated. ~Mark Twain

We trouble our life by thoughts about death, and our death by thoughts about life. ~Michel de Montaigne


THEME

Sue, who had suggested today’s topic on Death and Life, opened the conversation by recalling experiences in her family— the death last year of her sister-in-law, and several years ago, of her father; with the latter, the family was blessed by a wise nurse who helped them see it was time to let go. Sue also brought wisdom in quotes, and references to books on death and life by Katie Butler, Larry Rosenberg and Thich Nhat Hanh. See AFTERWORDS for these.

Ann too was enthusiastic about a writer and a book: the neurologist Oliver Sacks, and his recent book, Hallucinations, which cites some explanations for near-death experiences, among other phenomena. She also remarked on how little we Americans appreciate the reality of the end of life, or even let ourselves look at death, only slowly moving into easing the end of life with hospice/palliative care, after not too many years ago, the pioneering work of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and others.

Louise said she’d told her daughter she doesn’t want any part of the nursing-home end of life; instead, put her in a room on her own, like the story and tradition described by Native American writer, N, Scott Momaday, of the way an old Indian goes off by himself to his honorable death. She also spoke of facing death as fact and prospect constantly with the chickens, as some select themselves out and sometimes she does the selecting. (L also reported a new arrival at Falling Water farm—Dr. Dave from Union College, who’ll help with the garden.)

Janay first thought of her get-together with her St. Ann’s prep school alumni for a funeral, the occasion an affecting reminder of this transitory life, a shared reality that brought them all closer. And in common with Louise, she also was facing life, birth, and death daily with her guinea hens and other fowl. She spoke too of having had to face mortality with her lupus diagnosis at 21, when it was thought deadly within 5 years; and then learning as much as she could to manage, and do things creatively, and more recently, this culminating in the poultry business that keeps her going.

Nancy spoke first about an experience on her mind from the previous night, her son’s unexpected loss of a close friend from high school, and the kinds of reality such a thing forces on you. Then she read some things that reflect her feelings about death and life—quotes from writers from different lands and eras, and excerpts from the books of Eckhart Tolle, which gave rise to more discussion on the fear of death and fear in general as a driver in our culture and in the world. See AW for these.

Anna, rather than speaking of death, affirmed her pleasure in just being here among us, and reported she was still doing her walking, and still enjoying the wildlife and not so wild poultry in the care of her daughter, Janay. (Both A and J, incidentally, were wearing special tee-shirts— Anna, her good old Peacemaker tee, and Janay, a more recent one denoting her bird business, with its memorable name, LadyHawke Aviary.)

Knowing our local Literacy Volunteers organization has recently come on hard times, we decided today’s offering should go to them.


BENEDICTION

There is no cure for birth and death, save to enjoy the interval. ~Santanyana


NEXT TIME

Sunday, August 15 (1030), again at Louise’s Sky Hill farm. The topic is CHANGES (in Ourselves, Over Time)


AFTERWORDS

from Sue

Talked about:

The Long Goodbye: How Modern Medicine Decreases Our Chance of a Good Death, by Katie Butler. See The Sun interview with author.

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Dr. Autl Gawande, Metropolitan Books, 2014

Living in the Light of Death: On the Art of Being Truly Alive by Larry Rosenberg, Shambhala Publ., 2000

Quotations:

Rule #47. To keep death daily before one’s eyes.” ~Rule of Benedict

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. ~Steve Jobs

The fear of death follows from the fear of life. The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time. ~Mark Twain

While I thought that I was learning how to live, I have been learning how to die. ~Leonardo Da Vinci

It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live. ~Marcus Aurelius

There are so many little dyings that it doesn’t matter which of them is death. ~Kenneth Patchen

If I had known I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself. ~Mae West

A man is not old until regrets take the place of dreams. ~John Barrymore

This body is not me; I am not caught in this body, I am life without boundaries, I have never been born and I have never died. Over there the wide ocean and the sky with many galaxies All manifests from the basis of consciousness. Since beginningless time I have always been free. Birth and death are only a door through which we go in and out. Birth and death are only a game of hide-and-seek. So smile to me and take my hand and wave good-bye. Tomorrow we shall meet again or even before. We shall always be meeting again at the true source, Always meeting again on the myriad paths of life. ~Thích Nhất Hạnh, No Death, No Fear


from Nancy

Fear seems to have many causes. Fear of loss, fear of failure, fear of being hurt, and so on, but ultimately all fear is the ego’s fear of death, of annihilation. To the ego, death is always just around the corner, In this mind-identified state, fear of death affects every aspect of your life. For example,even such a seemingly trivial and “normal” thing as the compulsive need to be right in an argument and make the other person wrong—defending the mental position with which you have identified—is due to the fear of death. If you identify with a mental position, then if you are wrong, your mind-based sense of self is seriously threatened with annihilation. So you as the ego cannot afford to be wrong. To be wrong is to die. Wars have been fought over this, and countless relationships have broken down. ~Eckhart Tolle

When you walk through a forest that has not been tamed and interfered with by man, you will see not only abundant life all around you, but you will also encounter fallen trees and decaying trunks, rotting leaves and decomposing matter at every step. Wherever you look, you will find death as well as life. Upon closer scrutiny, however, you will discover that the decomposing tree trunk and rotting leaves not only give birth to new life, but are full of life themselves. Microorganisms are at work. Molecules are rearranging themselves. So death isn’t to be found anywhere. There is only the metamorphosis of life forms. What can you learn from this? Death is not the opposite of life. Life has no opposite. The opposite of death is birth. Life is eternal. ~Ibid.

How short-lived every human experience is, how fleeting our lives. Is there anything that is not subject to birth and death, anything that is eternal? Consider this: if there were only one color, let us say blue, and the entire world and everything in it were blue, then there would be no blue. There needs to be something that is not blue so that blue can be recognized; otherwise, it would not “stand out”, would not exist. In the same way, does it not require something that is not fleeting and impermanent for the fleetingness of all things to be recognized? In other words: if everything, including yourself, were impermanent, would you even know it? Does the fact that you are aware of and can witness the short-lived nature of all form, including your own, not mean that there is something in you that is not subject to decay? ~Ibid.

Death is not an anomaly or the most dreadful of all events as modern culture would have you believe, but the most natural thing in the world, inseparable from and just as natural as its polarity — birth. Remind yourself of this when you sit with a dying person. It is a great privilege and a sacred act to be present at a person’s death as a witness and companion. ~Ibid.

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