On Death and Life
Last week my wife and I traveled to see a friend off into the next world. It has been difficult to navigate the complexity of death in both thought and discussion. It also brings the reality of our mortality closer to the edge of our daily consciousness. The obvious concept here is nothing new and I don’t think I have an original thought on this matter. I am simply pointing out the obvious. We are born, we live, we die.
I stopped at the Goodwill last week and was thumbing through some books. I found one called Iron John by Robert Bly written in the ’90s. I started reading it before I left and still haven’t finished it. Ironically, it is about life and more specifically a commentary on the evolution or de-evolution of manhood. It talks about how men are losing themselves in passivity.
My friend David is a great man. He hasn’t passed away yet, he is in the process of death. You know even in death for some of us, we have to wait in line. David was my neighbor. He lived right next door. In the morning, we would see each other off. In the afternoon, we would arrive often at the same time. I would open my garage and he would open his on weekend days. He was always climbing a ladder or repairing some part of the house or something in it. Growing up in the city, I had little experience repairing small engines or performing home repair. David was always there teaching me how to do something. I have a lot of experience with plumbing, pipefitting, and welding from the service but getting that leaf blower to work after the winter was always a bear. Tall and strong, he seemed to have endless energy. His demeanor was always calm and quiet. He is one of those people that we would think of as a gentle giant.
David would talk about his life in regard to his responsibilities. He spent over twenty years working as a mechanic at Sears as a side job to his many years in banking. He is an EVP for a commercial bank. It sounds crazy to think that he would have to work a second job but through his career that is what it took to make ends meet. He had a lot of responsibilities from his perspective. Robert Bly in his book talks about this concept of a wild man and this ancient idea about our introduction of humanity to our animal-based selves. We are still animals but we are aware of ourselves. This was the curse of sorts that Adam gave man by eating the apple from the tree of knowledge. We now know of ourselves and our fate. We are mortal because we are aware of it. Still one would think that with our knowledge of our impending death that we wouldn’t be our passive person. When we are born we are born with the potential to be many things but when we die, looking back, we die with the knowledge of the one thing we have become. David is a father, a brother, a son, a friend and a pretty amazing person with a vast amount of knowledge that he will take with him. I think he left whatever was his wildness behind a long time ago. In the time I spent with him, there was a flicker every so often of an echo of wildness but mostly he did what he believed he had to do.
In the spring and summer, Erin and I would light up dads old grill and make some food. If we saw David come home, we would offer him something and ask him over. On some days, he would loosen his tie and come by for a beer and a burger but most of these days he would thank us and possibly take a plate but head inside. He said recently, “should have done more of that” meaning he should have stayed out with us more in reflection. What are the things that people think about when they are in the twilight? What are the things that people consider when they die? What are your last thoughts? You will have last thoughts. What will they be and why should we consider them now? I heard from another friend recently thought about death as one of his close friends had a near-death experience. He echoed the thoughts “Did I do enough?” “I tried my best, do they know”? “Do they know how much I love them”? He also asked if they loved him. In conversation with another friend, he said that he saw hologram-like images of some people he loved. He said they were disappointed in him in their facial expressions. I can understand that. I also wonder if my grandparents would be disappointed in me. Sometimes you do your best but it isn’t good enough and everyone knows it. I hope David doesn’t feel that way.
Is it that we don’t do enough or that we abandon our wild person? Is it that we allow society and all of the opinions of others to put us into some crazy robot mode? It’s like the first day you can go to a grocery store with your own money and buy anything in the store you want but you don’t. You know what I mean? I can go to the grocery store right now and buy as many candies as I want but I don’t. Why not? Why don’t I buy that whole shelf of candy and just make ice cream sundaes and whatever? The wild person tamed into submission? David worked as a Comptroller and CFO until he couldn’t write or sit up on his own any longer. I mean that he literally worked until he couldn’t. I know why he did it. He assigned purpose in life and work. Yeah, I understand that. I have been guilty of it as well. One day, I blinked and my oldest son was out of college. I think I assigned the wrong amount of energy to the wrong things myself. We can’t make up that time. Did I do enough? Do they know how much I love them? Do they know? Do they love me as much as I love them? It won’t be long until the many for me become the one that I am or the one that I will be. My friend David said, “You have those boys to care for.” We assign our lives in the purpose of service to others and those we love. Eternal purgatory may be the vacuum of knowledge. What I mean is that we have some knowledge of life and love but not enough to know what it all means or if we “did enough” in that we served our purpose. David told me to tell you that you shouldn’t miss an opportunity to stop for a beer and a bbq. He told me to tell you to loosen your tie and unbutton the top button and sit with us to tell stories and laugh. In the moment, you are not alone and you are loved and those moments are a chain of connections. These are memories of your life for which you blink and it will be over and our hope is that you don’t wonder if you did enough. Being the one you is enough.
He passed this morning 7/16