Monday, April 23, 2012
......minutes after birth
I lectured on death today, always a disconcerting way to end a term. But for a class that begins at conception and weaves its way through potty training, puberty, and perimenopause, death seems a logical spot to come to a close. After all, if we live, we die.
A hearse crossed my path on the walk from the parking ramp into school. I kid you not. On the drive in last week, the beginning of the “Death” lecture, I found myself at the head of a funeral procession. A glance into the rearview showed a long line of tiny car flags whipping in the wind behind me. In the five years I have been teaching I have not once experienced such a visceral visual of the words I would speak in class. Needless to say, I was a bit freaked. I felt like throwing salt over my left shoulder, scouring the earth for a four leaf clover, knocking on wood, and closing my eyes to make a wish all at the same time.
It’s not the after life or the process leading up to dying that most fascinates me. It’s that point smack in the middle, that moment when the last breath is taken and the first one is not. With the process leading up to dying, there is always hope or remembering or preparation for death. There is something to do or to think or to be. There is the anger, the questioning, the sadness or acceptance, and the saying of final goodbyes. During the days leading up to that final one, there is living still to do. After death itself, there is whatever you believe there is. Maybe. How can we be sure? And don’t debate me on this one. That’s another essay. A student asked, “Do you think life would be easier if we knew for certain what came after?” No. No, I don’t. Living is hard. Some of us are procrastinators. We wait until the last minute to actually start the living. Procrastinator or not, though, life is still life no matter what comes next. Whether the Kingdom of Heaven, a passage into another life form, or dark, empty nothingness, the days AFTER death are of no consequence to those prior. Argue with me if you will, but my feeling is that life should be lived to the fullest extent possible and in the most compassionate manner regardless religious belief. Be kind. Love one another. Use your gifts to enrich the lives of those around you. No, it’s not the before or the after of living and dying that fascinates me but that spot right in the middle, that spot that is not life and yet not fully death, that place where one is jumping the gap.
I cannot stop obsessing over transition, the impact on a life it has, the power behind that point, the finality, the definition. Though, technically, it is not the transition over which I obsess, but that instant in which the transition is made.
One minute, for example, I am not a mother. Sure, I am pregnant, but big deal. My life is still pretty much my own. I sleep in my own bed with my husband, with no tiny hands or feet flung over my face, no nursing babe attached to my breast, dribbling milk onto my bed sheets, clutching at my nightgown. I eat my own food, grown up food, not remnants of neon-cheese-colored pasta in the shape of cartoon characters. I pee in privacy. I shave BOTH legs when I shower. I shower. Yes, my body is full with new life, but that life does not take crayons to my walls nor does it send lacrosse balls through bay windows. I close my eyes. I bear down. With that final push, I am a mother. I am a mother with one push.
Why do we fear death? Why are we so afraid to look it in the face, to talk of it? WOULD it be easier to live if we knew what came after? I don’t think so. But I think it WOULD be easier to live if we could see that point, that point in between the last breath taken and the first one not. If we could feel it with our minds and with our hearts and know that it is real, KNOW that THIS life has an end, THIS life comes to a close, THIS life is for the living. From that last push to that last breath.