Monthly Archives: June 2012

Death and dignity

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If you know me at all…no wait, scratch that…you don’t really have to know me in the slightest to know that I am a MASSIVE (in this case literally and figuratively :D) fan of Terry Pratchett. So of course I follow his Facebook page. And yesterday they advertised an auction for a dinner with the man himself, with all funds raised in this way going to support “Dignity in Dying”. Now, notwithstanding the fact that I would sell all my possessions and organs (as well as anybody’s that I have ever known) to be the one to have dinner with Terry, it also got me thinking. “Dignity in dying” is not exactly one of those causes you can use to win Miss Universe – it’s too depressing. But, knowing that Terry Pratchett was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s a few years ago, I can see how this would become a cause worth investing in. Funny how priorities change as life takes its turns with us.

Which got me to thinking about “dignity” and “dying”, and about how these two can (and should/would?) go together. For “dignity” can sound like such a very passive, stiff-upper-lip kind of thing…so “dignity in dying” can sound so much like giving up, giving over, hanging around – in a dignified manner, mind – until your time is done. And yet, one of my favourite poems (anthems?) by Dylan Thomas tells us: “Do not go gentle into that good night, old age should burn and rave at close of day; rage, rage against the dying of the light”. So how do we reconcile these two seemingly very different understandings? Can we? Should we?

Living = surrounding yourself

For that I think the answer is not in the dying, but in the living of it all. Of course, in those last moments of our lives, we will all wonder about one or two things when looking back upon our journey. The trick, I think, is how much there is to wonder about – in my experiences with death and dying, the most fear and desperation are felt by those who realise that they have waited too long with most everything. Who know, in that final moment, that too much has gone unsaid, undone, unthought. Is that the same as saying that to live to the full – to get to an end with mostly peace – is to rage and burn and rave all our desires to the full? No matter who or what you leave in your wake? Or in what condition? Since it is only you on your own in those dying moments?

And then “dignity” clicked for me – for to live a dignified live is not to live a life without passion and fire, but always living it with the knowledge that you are not the only person being affected by your journey. So, when talking about dignity in death, I think it’s more about the people you leave behind and how they are left. And the balance – that very precarious and flighty thing – is to be found in exactly “dignity in dying”…for then we are living our lives and our passions to the full, realising that we only have so much time in which to do all we desire; but to also do it in such a way that those around us are inspired, are ignited by our passion to find and follow their own, are strengthened by our lives and our journeys. When we manage that, our life, our death, will be something to mostly smile about…something that pushes people onward and upward…something to be proud of.

Be still

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One of those days…

Yesterday two of my colleague friends and I were talking about emotion – about what the ultimate emotion is and what it looks and feels like, about how to create emotion etc. One, Juan, asked me to write a blog about emotions to give him my opinion on things. The irony is that, the more I think about it (and boy, have I thought about it! :D), the more I know that emotion is exactly that which cannot be written or talked about. You cannot “create” emotion in yourself or anyone else; you can only experience it.

“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart” – Helen Keller

And so this blog took an unexpected turn – it is not about emotion or the creation of emotion, but rather about being still…about abandoning ourselves to life’s every moment…about allowing ourselves to breathe…For in the living of it, in the letting go of our attempts to analyse it, therein lies the experience of true emotion. It is only then that the voice of our bodies can be heard, even more, that we can resonate with the emotions of those surrounding us. Only in allowing ourselves the simplicity (the freedom?) of completely immersing ourselves in this body, this moment, this heart, can we know what emotion is. Can we become who we need to be and do what we need to do.

“All the knowledge I possess everyone else can acquire, but my heart is all my own.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Immersing ourselves in the moment, no matter how small it may seem.

We cannot, actually, discuss emotion; in fact, we shouldn’t, for then we are missing the point and the emotion. We can and should only allow ourselves to “be still” – to abandon ourselves to the moment, to absorb the totality of every small experience in every day, to become uninhibited.

“There is a relationship between the eye contacts we make and the perceptions that we create in our heads, a relationship between the sound of another’s voice and the emotions that we feel in our hearts, a relationship between our movements in space all around us and the magnetic pulls we can create between others and ourselves. All of these things (and more) make up the magic of every ordinary day and if we are able to live in this magic, to feel and to dwell in it, we will find ourselves living with magic every day. These are the white spaces in life, the spaces in between the written lines, the cracks in which the sunlight filters into. Some of us swim in the overflowing of the wine glass of life, we stand and blink our eyes in the sunlight reaching unseen places, we know where to find the white spaces, we live in magic.” – C. Joybell C.

Giving over to the moment, the emotion, completely.

Isn’t it funny?

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Life will always remain a strange thing…an enigma…the biggest variable in any one of our individual life’s plots…filling it with both pain and beauty. We can experience death and new life all in the span of one week. We can reach the most glorious highs on some levels, while simultaneously experiencing the lowest of lows. Funny that. Funny using an expression like “isn’t it funny” for something that’s actually not “funny” at all, but rather difficult, bizarre or uncomfortable.

When the writer of Ecclesiastes says, “there is a time for everything”, he makes it sound so neat in a way. Yes, he mentions things like a time to cry and a time to die; but it still sounds so ordered – like there is a rhythm even to those times, that they will follow on each other, that you will always be able to move from the one to the other. And yet, in our living life, we come to realise that those times aren’t “neat” or “rhythmic”, mostly they are intertwined – joy with tears, success with disappointment, and life with death. Which is so contra-instinctive for us – we WANT life to be more “reliable”, more predictable. We NEED life to be simpler. We NEED to hold on to the belief that tomorrow will be different…will be better…will be more. But life continues on its “merry” way, and tomorrow usually ends up being the same as today – complicated. Which means that we can (and often do!) spend a lot of time questioning the meaning of our existence, the sense our living holds, the reason for our being. Getting so caught up in thinking about life that we don’t live it. But, you might say, such a complicated mess is not worth calling life, never mind living it! And yet, it is what it is, and it remains so no matter our thoughts on the matter.

So why is it worth it? What is the significance of this quagmire? Where is God in all of this? “Our life is a faint tracing on the surface of mystery, like the idle, curved tunnels of leaf miners on the surface of a leaf. We must somehow take a wider view, look at the whole landscape, really see it, and describe what’s going on here. Then we can at least wail the right question into the swaddling band of darkness, or, if it comes to that, choir the proper praise.” – Annie Dillard “Let children walk with nature, let them see the beautiful blending and communions of death and life, their joyous inseparable unity, as taught in woods and meadows, plains and mountains and streams of our blessed star, and they will learn that death is stingless indeed, and as beautiful as life.” – John Muir

We should not strive for peace and calm and simple, for it is only in the difficulty and the chaos and the mess that we can plumb the depths of who we are. You cannot be truly brave and courageous without having felt fear tinge your being and overcoming it. You cannot truly live without confronting the complex reality that life is. “I don’t believe that life is supposed to make you feel good, or make you feel miserable either. Life is just supposed to make you feel.” – Gloria Naylor In the fullness of the total experience, in our giving ourselves over to every piece of it, in our looking every part of life and death straight in the eye and conquering it; therein lies living. For if you’re not ready to die, then how can you live? So…hoohah! “To live in this world you must be able to do three things: to love what is mortal; to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it; and, when the time comes to let it go, to let it go.” – Mary Oliver