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Guelph Mercury Editorial

Death, if undenied, can be a rich life experience

I've been to two funerals in the last eight days. One for an aged aunt in her mid-80s and one for an acquaintance on the dawn of her 50th birthday. Both were sad and sobering affairs. Added to this have been weeks of media reports and photos of "collateral damage" in Iraq, acts of genocide in the Congo and reports of SARS infections in Canada and around the world. Death is on my mind like the layer of salt-laced grime on my car.

And yet even though I've stopped reading the front section of the paper, I continue to peruse the obituaries every day. For me, they are the most highly motivating page of the newspaper. While my first reaction is always deep empathy for the family and friends of the dearly departed, my second response is to be grateful for my life and the life of those I love.

A few weeks back, I was stopped downtown at a red light by the post office. I happened to glance in my rear-view mirror just in time to see an oncoming driver, busy looking at the passing stores and not at me. The next instant, he crashed into my rear end. Neither of us was hurt and the damage to our cars was manageable, but what resonated for me was how "suddenly" this accident occurred. That same evening, I read about a young man named Angelo who had "died suddenly" as a result of a traffic accident. Angelo and I shared a similar, connecting experience with profoundly different end results. Later that evening, I greatly enjoyed the company of friends as we celebrated a birthday together. I thought of Angelo's wife and kids. And I sang happy birthday with gusto.

I've noticed that no one is shocked by the birth of a child. I've also noticed that many people in our society are surprised by the death of a individual. Much has been written about the North American tendency to deny death's presence. And yet we continue to remain bewildered and flabbergasted.

It's true that a woman gives us nine or so months of warning when she is going to have a baby. However in reality, the maternity term is typically much shorter than the time we are dying because the minute we are born, we start moving towards our deathbed. We each reach our destination at different times and under various circumstances, and yet the destination of death is reached by each and every living organism on this planet sooner or later.

Personally, I find this truth liberating. I know that my trip on this earth is going to end. My job is to decide on the experiences I want to have along the way.

Currently I am reading "The Power of Now," by Eckhart Tolle. He speaks at length about the importance of living in the present moment. In short, he notes that the past is unchangeable and the future may not come. He repeatedly points out that it is "right now" that we can have the greatest impact on the quality of how our life unfolds. Tolle recommends that to experience "now" consciousness, we must "die before we die." In other words, know that you too are dying. And then seize the day.

Today is a day worth seizing. You and I may not know our final resting hour. The word "suddenly" may someday be applied to us or someone we love. So do yourself a huge service and allow this fact to penetrate. Then take a deep breath and smile for the sake of smiling. Today is your gift just for being here now.

Sue Richards is a social entrepreneur, artist and cultural animator. She is also a member of the Mercury's Community Editorial Board. Check out her Guelph Photo Blog.

Contact Sue Richards at [email protected]

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