Our fears don’t stop death. They stop life.
~ Rickson Gracie, a Brazilian 9th Degree Red Belt in Jiu-Jitsu
Defeat is not defeat unless accepted as a reality- in your own mind.
~ Bruce lee
Neither shall they say, Lo here! or lo, there! for behold, the kingdom of God is within you.
The kingdom of heaven is within you; and whoever shall know himself shall find it.
~ Egyptian Book of the Dead
In order to actualize our Dharma, we must first clean our emotions and psyche. This in turn means enduring many sacrifices. We come to understand what Sophocles meant when he wrote: “Nothing vast enters the life of mortals without a curse.”
~ Michael Tsarion
Head these words, You who wish to probe the depths of nature: If you do not find within yourself that which you seek, neither will you find it outside. In you is hidden the treasure of treasures. Know thyself and you will know the Universe and the Gods.
~ Oracle of Delphi
Quinn: They come here looking for the magic, hoping to find romance, when they can’t find it anywhere else.
Robin: Maybe they will.
Quinn: It’s an island, babe. If you didn’t bring it here, you won’t find it here.
~ Harrison Ford and Anne Heche, Six Days Seven Nights- 1998
When my dad went to Vietnam in 1967, he took out a one million dollar insurance policy in case he didn’t make it home. I was 4 years old. From that moment, I can remember our family talking about death and dying. As we grew in years and understanding, death and what we wanted to happen to our body was regular dinner conversation. It wasn’t brought up every night, but enough times that we knew we could bring it up and it would not seem strange. I thought everyone did this.
We were not a religious family though my dad grew up in church. Mom had mixed feelings due to how she and her siblings were treated when they occasionally attended. Church people invariably expressed pity for them since they were poor and shabbily dressed. I had read Bible stories and went with friends once or twice to church, but I had no real connection to Christianity. I had heard of Heaven and Hell from my grandparents, but an after-life concept was not in my thoughts as a child.
My first funeral was for my paternal grandfather. He was not a nice person and I was not overly fond of him. I went to make sure he was dead. I had a puppy die a few years later and I took that passing much harder. After a while, more distant family members died, but no one I spent much time with. Death was this amorphous entity that visited others, not those people immediately around me. I can’t say I had a fear of dying, nor fear of my parents’ death. I was more afraid they would just leave, willingly abandoning us and I would have to raise my siblings. When my parents passed in 2019, I felt only relief for they both suffered much in their last years. We were all grown and my worst fear did not come to pass.
Fear is a natural emotion and can save your life in specific circumstances. Constant fear is quite harmful as most of us have found these last two years. We have had our world up-ended with no means to pick up the pieces. If the saying, Going to Hell in a Hand-basket were happening now, I would assert that the hand-basket was taken away as well. Our usual support systems were locked away either through governmental means or by our own fear of what our actions would cause those we loved.
During our forced isolation we became disconnected from each other. Now that things are winding down, getting together as before can induce a different kind of anxiety. It’s like we have to re-learn our social skills and find a way to sit closer, see people’s faces and interact like the adults we want to be. When we were masked, separated, and more anonymous, it was easier to think of folks as potential enemies. Now we come face to face (pun intended) with our previous actions and our personal fears.
In the coming months, we may be put in even more uncomfortable situations. We may need to care for a family member who may have been healthy pre-covid but have succumbed to the stress of the past two years. Our children may have difficulty getting back in the swing of learning, socializing, and feeling secure. It might be likened to a collective divorce where we aren’t sure which side of the family we will live with from week to week. Readjusting our equilibrium will be challenging. Our resilience will be tested.
At the end of the day, we are all afraid of death. It is the ultimate fear. All other calamities that befall us can be gotten through. Contemplating our own death or the demise of someone dear to us is not something we in America are used to doing. The past two years have brought this eventuality upon us in sharp relief. Where do we begin this conversation? How do we want to face this inevitability? What can we do to comfort those facing death, their own, or a loved one? Perhaps you want to start with the practicalities, such as burial or cremation, funeral or celebration of life, family only, or community. This can help you ease into deeper conversations.
Contemplate your own beliefs regarding an after-life or if your essence dies with the body. What legacy do you want to leave behind and not just the material items listed in your Last Will? Before any hint of your impending death is known, tell folks how you feel. Ask forgiveness and make amends, if possible. Forgive others who have hurt you, if that is weighing on your heart. You may desire to leave a written or recorded statement for those left behind. It is never too early to do these things. We are not guaranteed tomorrow. Live while living is possible.
Blaming outside elements or people for our suffering does not make our suffering go away. As we look deep into ourselves, we can find peace. It is there if we are intent on finding it. As the quotes at the beginning say, we bring everything with us we could possibly need. It is up to us to discover and plumb our depths. Whatever we are looking for, whether fear or love, we will surely find it.