Monday, April 26, 2010

Love Your Death

“Hokahey! Today is a good day to die!” Crazy Horse exhorted his warriors with this cry as they went into battle. (Hokahey means something like “Let’s do it!” or “Let’s roll!”) Were they suicidal? I don’t think so.

The Tao Te Ching says, “He who knows how to live can walk abroad without fear ... because he has no place for death to enter.” I don’t think the Sioux warriors were seeking death. But they were not afraid of it, either. By living without fear of death, they lived fully. Sure, they died. We all do. But they didn’t die in advance, if you know what I mean. Death had no place to enter into their time of living.

Two years ago my word for the year was Prepare. The word came to me as I was going through my usual New Year’s Eve ritual at my cabin. (Word of the Year ) It was getting close to midnight and I still didn’t have a word. As I was listening to the sound of the creek outside, I heard the word Death (not my word because my word is always a verb) and then moments later Prepare (a verb). Hmm, not exactly what I was hoping for. How about Enjoy, Relax, or Nap? But I knew with an inner recognition that Prepare was my word. As ominous as is sounds, I didn’t get the sense that this was any sort of premonition or threat. It seemed more like loving advice. Not a death knell, but rather a wake up call.

In her last months, as my mom was dying of cancer, we had some wonderful conversations. I asked her questions about her life, like what were her happiest memories, what was she most proud of, what did she regret. Her answers were not the answers I would have predicted, so I discovered things about her that I treasure still. I asked her how she felt about dying and she responded that she was curious. Curious. Like the French philosopher Rabelais, who reportedly said on his deathbed, “Je vais chercher un grand peut-etre.” I go to seek a great perhaps.

Mom was not afraid to die. She was like the monk who stood calmly before the samurai warrior brandishing his sword. The warrior bellowed, “I can run you through without blinking an eye.” When the monk replied quietly, “And I can be run through without blinking an eye,” the samurai dropped his sword and fell at the feet of the monk, acknowledging his superior power. Mom’s ease put me at ease, with death and with her death.

I was sitting by the creek during the summer of the year when my word was Prepare. Everything was lush and green. The birds were chirping. Everywhere was life abundant. As the sun’s warm rays sparkled on the dancing water, I heard the message “Love your death.” And I understood. Preparing for and loving my death release me from fear. I am free to love my life, to rejoice in the precious gift of each moment.

Every day is a good day to die. Hokahey.

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