Several years ago, when I was leading weekly healing circles in Ashland, Oregon, in the Autumn when the leaves were decaying on the Earth I got stuck on the theme of death for many weeks. After about six weeks of readings and meditations on death, those who attended the circles began to wonder if I would ever stop talking about death!
In the Northern Hemisphere now, the trees are growing more bare each moment. As I write, the wind is swirling dried brown leaves through the air outside my window. The cold white sky invites me to turn inward and to contemplate reality. It seems that just yesterday the trees were filled with bright green leaves, but now they are emptying, like we all will have to do when our death time arrives.
Recently I came across my youngest brother’s college textbook, The Last Dance: Encountering Death and Dying, and I skimmed it to find a few jewels. Today I will share one… When describing the death rituals in America in the nineteenth century, the authors (DeSpelder and Strickland) say that in close-knit communities, a death bell tolled the age of the deceased, to notify the people. I found this totally fascinating:
“You can feel the silence pass over the community as all activity is stopped and the number of rings is counted. One, two, three — it must be the Myer’s baby that has the fever. No, it’s still tolling — four, five, six. There is another pause at twenty — could that be Molly Shields? Her baby is due at any time now — no, it’s still tolling. Will it never stop? Thirty-eight, thirty-nine, another pause — who? It couldn’t be Ben; he was here just yesterday; said he was feeling fit as a fiddle — no, it’s starting again. Seventy, seventy-one, seventy-two. Silence. You listen, but there is no sound — only silence. Isaac Tipton. He has been ailing for two weeks now. It must be Isaac.”
Dear reader, how did you feel when reading that passage? Can you even imagine living in such a community?
The way we think about death affects the way we live our lives. Are you comfortable thinking about death? When you walk on decaying brown leaves, can you feel the inter-connectedness of life and death?
Contemplating death helps us to happy up, because it reminds us that we are alive right now in this present moment, and we can enjoy life so much, even during difficult times.
What are you enjoying right now? What do you feel grateful for? Are you loving yourself fully today?
With reverence for life and death,
Photo by Shelby Deeter on Unsplash.