POSTCARD #82: South East England: Somebody I know died. There was a ceremony, the monks came, chanted blessings and now she’s gone. All that remains is her absence, her empty rooms, her pictures on the walls, objects chosen, placed on shelves and now there’s no one here who made the choices. Sadness… her clock-radio still starts at 8.00 in the morning and the bedroom is suddenly full of classical music. Empty bed, bedclothes made up neat, tidy and not slept in. Nobody in the house can bear to change it. My task is to pull away the bed from the wall, find where the cable leads to the socket, and disconnect it. Orchestral music spinning around the walls and ceiling as I search for the socket. It’s next to the skirting board I can just reach it… click, the music is gone. Push the bed back in place and contemplate the silence. A nice, quiet room with morning light coming in through the windows. She was a musician who became a Buddhist, then was a Buddhist Chaplain visiting hospices and caring for dying people, until she finally reached that stage herself.
Memory is all there is… faded like an old sepia tint photo. The enigma, the empty space where that person used to be. There’s ‘nothing’ left here, it’s not ‘something’, it’s not ‘anything’. Try to see past the words, concepts in the mind and there’s nothing remaining, only the holding-on to whatever it is that was defined in words but was never really there in the first place. Language is a tool for explaining how it appears to be, what it resembles, what it’s like… a wonderful shared software that names things, identifies feelings, etc. Poets and artists are compelled to use words and there are others, spiritual advisors, who refer only to cessation. Truth is inexpressible, no words for it; a ‘nothing’ that carries the feeling of no-thingness and brings with it a great sense of release, of peace, of rest, of ease and gentleness. I no longer have the burden of my thoughts. I let it all in, let it all out and everything fades away, ‘melted into thin air … the baseless fabric of this vision… we are such stuff as dreams are made on…’ [The Tempest]
A lifetime is a story told. Details accumulate and it appears to have form and direction as it goes on, but only when the end comes near does it have a context. The route by which I arrived at this point becomes somehow, explained – it was the right way, the best way to come here and everything I did in my life seems to fit together now I’m at the end. A curious reversal… I’m on the way to get here and yet seem to be able to look back on the journey and know how it came to be as it is. Buddhist cause/effect is an illusion, sequenced in linear time. In the totality, everything is ‘now’, an ‘everywhere-shared instantaneity’ and each moment is simply a shift in focus.
Why does it have to be like this? There’s something about the question/answer relationship that’s always gently considered, without directing it too much. Trying to understand what this sort of thing might possibly be is enough to begin to know it – no need to go any further. More to do with indirect action. Death must be the true meaning of the ‘past tense’. Standing here in her room, the tidy bed, empty wardrobe, eyes move towards the window, look out at her overgrown garden. Birdsong, and the light of this particular time in the morning. Colour and images form, conscious awareness is the same for me now as it was for her then, standing as she was, in this same place….
“For life in the present there is no death. Death is not an event in life. It is not a fact in the world. Our life is endless, in just the same way that our field of vision has no boundaries.” [Wittgenstein”]
Beautiful. Touching. Thank you for sharing.
Thanks for your visit Sangeeta and these kind words
I’m sorry for your loss. This is so so beautiful: “A lifetime is a story told. Details accumulate and it appears to have form and direction as it goes on, but only when the end comes near does it have a context. The route by which I arrived at this point becomes somehow, explained – it was the right way, the best way to come here and everything I did in my life seems to fit together now I’m at the end. A curious reversal… I’m on the way to get here and yet seem to be able to look back on the journey and know how it came to be as it is.”
Thank you for sharing it. I hope that you and your friend meet again in another life.
Thank you, it has to be always a shared experience. This is the nature of the mystery…
Another post full of beauty – thank you. I wonder if the non-event of death is the most preoccupying thought in our lives. With age, we lose those that are very close to us and with more age, we can see them for the perfect stories and paintings that they are. As I read your post, I remind myself of the story I’m creating, the picture I’m painting. The full stop at the end doesn’t add anything, nor take anything away.
Your friend has you to remember her story. Perhaps that full stop is just a line-break.
Thanks for your comment and reference to ‘stories’ and ‘paintings’. For about a year now I’ve been reading excerpts of David Loy, ‘The World Is Made of Stories’. All that is actually passed on is in the form of memories held by those who knew the deceased, and how these people may integrate what they learned into consciousness so that the story continues. Maybe also unseen karma in other forms. The non-event of death and mystery of life are inexpressible, indicators that there’s something more than creating stories… one comes to an end so that another can take its place – more than this.
Very sorry for your loss. Hard to fathom that someone is suddenly absent from life. Know that feeling that the person is suddenly just “gone” when once a totality of being. She sounds like she was a great person. May good memories of her steal away some of the pain!
Thank you Ellen, yes, this is it… the question that cannot be answered. But the Buddhist chaplain who passed away knew more about death than most people do because of her work in hospices. I know she would say something like when you really start thinking about death, what you’re really thinking about is life. The same kind of mystery. Everything is always an overwhelmingly wonderful moment.
The passing of time is such an interesting thing to observe. Recently the American actor popular in my childhood James Garner passed away. My husband and I are watching a few old Rockford Files TV shows in his honor…it is amazing to get setting snapshots back into our childhood memories of what life was like in the early 70’s. My British husband caught a few of these in reruns in England in the early 80’s and now he is dumbfounded that now married to an American, he lives a few blocks away from the very same Pacific coastal highway 101 featured in the show. At the time he watched these as a kid, the thought of that would have been similar to the idea of living on the moon. Amazing what can happen in lives truly lived!
It sounds as if this precious woman too, reeaalllyy lived her life before setting off to the next adventure. For me, that is always something to celebrate even though the in person hugs can be terribly missed. In my experience, the heart gets the hugs directly now.
I remember James Garner when I was a young person living in Scotland. We associate events with a place or try to find a context for it as if it were necessary to ‘place’ it in time. Often, it’s only when you come to the end of your life – or contemplate another reaching that point – that you see the passage of time in this special kind of way. And yes, something to celebrate, I like that idea, and the warmth and joyfulness in heart. She would have agreed completely with what you say. Thanks for your visit, please come again.
Dear Tiramit – I’m enjoying the beautiful comments your readers leave almost (almost) as much as your wise writing.
“I no longer have the burden of my thoughts. I let it all in, let it all out and everything fades away…” Exquisite! Here’s the key to the end of suffering, in two pithy little sentences. Breathing it in – breathing it out – all commentary/story suspended…
Thanks Miriam, yes, it’s about letting go, something said over and over in all kinds of ways. Reminding myself constantly that if there’s suffering, it’s usually because there’s an unnecessary holding-on to adversity, wanting it to be something other than what it is. Thank goodness for the First Noble Truth, just being able to say, ah yes, it’s that…
Your writing here was sublime. When my grandmother passed away I had the chance to spend a day going through the house with my dad and his siblings, and the feeling was much like you engendered here… a gentle holding of a presence that lingers, a prophetic sorting through the mundane, a departure that reveals how the manner in which we thought connection existed was only a facsimile of a far greater intimacy that knows no beginning or end. I realized that the way we attach to particularities can mask the ever present endlessness in which all beings both before and after perpetually share. I think you honored her life beautifully with this share… Thank you…
Thank you Michael for this idea of a gentle holding of the presence that lingers – enough to get everyone thinking about the whole story, the bigger picture. The way we normally relate is a ‘facsimile of a far greater intimacy that knows no beginning or end.’ Death is the teacher, an opportunity to open up and see it as clearly as we can.
a poet who paints with words of expression in color
knows the secret of life within mystery….
no rhyme or reason, just words whispered at the end of her season you have
so eloquently shared with us…
I empathize with you …..and whisper condolences upon the gentle breeze blowing in the stillness of this moonless night
Take Care…You Matter…
Thank you Maryrose for the beautiful quietness of your comment. Any expression of art has to be about the silent mystery of life, there is only this…
You are very Welcome….
your words always reflect such kindness,what strength
There is always the one question, of which you so beautifully and gently remind us. If there is suffering, there is holding on somewhere. For me, letting go of the physical presence of one no longer here opens me to endless existence. It is a ritual but unique to that once human being. Human that I am in a physical world, I clutch and grasp but not as much as I once did and not in the same way. There is a sense of going on in another way, perhaps as I have always done. I don’t know. I just know there is a sense.
Thank you Karen. I’m interested in what you say about ‘letting go… opens me to endless existence’ and, ‘there’s a sense’. Words can’t express, no markers in the mind. Some wise persons are able to navigate – could be it’s a skill that develops the more I’m able to let go. A natural quiet curiosity leaves me open to how this kind of thing might evolve, allowing it, but at this time there’s just a sense…
Your writing, your heart, even in this caring comment stream, have me feeling peeled right open as I wipe at tears. It all touched me, and this: “Poets and artists are compelled to use words and there are others, spiritual advisors, who refer only to cessation” speaks to me of how it feels as though words have fled me lately. And your response to StockDaleWolfe’s lovely comment have nearly taken my breath away with their beauty: “I know she would say something like when you really start thinking about death, what you’re really thinking about is life. The same kind of mystery. Everything is always an overwhelmingly wonderful moment.” Bless your wise and beautiful heart. And may you continue to find peace in the memories. Gina
Thanks again Gina for visiting here and your caring comment. Language attempts to express the wonder of conscious experience that’s beyond words… and sometimes nothing can be said. All that’s left is the contemplation of the inexpressible.
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A very poignant and timely post for me… My partner and I just got in the door from a trip to Thailand where we’d gone to put her mother’s ashes in the family stupa in the town where she was born. The entire family gathered there, and the mother’s absence was not felt… her presence WAS felt. Where do people go when they die? I don’t know. Zen Master Seung Sahn emphasizes the importance of keeping this “don’t know mind.” Ultimately, it would seem as though people don’t go anywhere when they die: there’s nowhere to go. Somehow, they escape the confusion of those still living, and, as such, are no longer perceived by us. I guess the more pertinent question isn’t “where did they go?” but rather “where did I come from?” Only don’t know…
Thanks for this, I know how it is at a Thai funeral, my wife’s mother passed away some years ago in South Thailand. Thanks too for the opportunity to consider the difference between presence and absence. There’s a presence, and maybe it’s reflected by the objects left around in the house immediately after the passing – also an indescribable left-over energy. In the course of time, when the body is gone and all the possessions are dispersed, maybe then there’s a sense of absence. In Thailand there are various annual ceremonies to mark the passing, and all that remains of the deceased is held in the memory of those left behind, until that too is released, relinquished. It’s the end of the constructed ‘self’ referred to in the Buddhist teachings – an explanation for the “where did they go?” and “where did I come from?” puzzle. But it still doesn’t answer the question “why is it like this?” There are no words for that. I like your point about giving way to the “don’t know mind”, being open to the question. Allowing the receptive mind to rest in awareness…