A few weeks ago I was sitting in a circle contemplating an upcoming meeting with some young people. An elder in the circle commented that our job as elders had to include admiring the young. In addition to helping me better prepare for meeting this young couple, these words, started me thinking. My thoughts have, as they always do, run toward community. It occurred to me that everyone needs to be admired, and that admiration could be one of the greatest gifts we can give to each other. These thoughts unlocked a door for me, and they are taking me into a new relationship with myself, and others. I hope, with these words, to share a little of that with you.
Not long ago I had an experience I didn’t know how to talk about. I found myself in a room full of dying people. These people didn’t have obvious illnesses, or even much real-time awareness of dying, but they all were on the same trajectory towards death. I was vividly aware that each was a dying human, that each was passing very quickly, and that I couldn’t do much about it. I felt vulnerable, helpless and strangely touched. As long as that moment lasted I could feel my love and appreciation for the uniqueness of each of them. I knew how grateful I was to be exposed to them.
The vividness with which I experienced the impending deaths of my friends has brought each of their qualities into my awareness. Noticing how quickly we are all passing has delivered me to a realization of how precious and unique each of us is. I more directly experienced the passion and heartache that underlies each life, and I could appreciate the personal, heroic struggle of each, as they chose to be human in their own way. I could feel how enriched my life is because each of them touched me, on their way into the mysterious darkness of death. I found myself smitten by the magnitude of our humble lives, awed and grateful, enlivened and trembling.
I couldn’t talk about the vividness of this experience, because it left me too raw, and too uncertain about speaking to the dying about dying. I still feel shaken about entering the land of the dying. I am noticing, while I am here, that I appreciate more the efforts that many are making to be as alive as possible as they pass from this earth. I am drawn to those who have been beaten, and are still magnificent, they give their life-energy fully, and they hearten me. I am filled with real, not manufactured, admiration.
I have been dwelling with this new, death-aided, admiration, since I have been initiated into the world of the dying. Paradoxically, I feel more alive, connected, and appreciative. I don’t take my friends for granted any more; they have become miracles I am blessed to be around. Each of them reveals to me something of the courage that being human requires. Each of them reminds me of how much profusion and diversity is in Creation.
Along with a more vivid relationship with the actuality of death has come a greater admiration for the living. And, this has lead to a greater desire on my part to let my fellow community members know how precious they are to me, and how well I see them. It seems to me, that perhaps the greatest gift I can give to another human being is to show them how well they are seen and appreciated. Community bonds grow with such acknowledgement.
I have wondered how I might best serve my community. Now, I think I know. If I can fully live in the land of the dying, I can feel the courage and passion that goes into living out the part of Creation that is an expression of our vulnerable existence. I benefit by knowing the truth of this life: that it ends, and I get to see the utterly human way most of us deal with that truth. Some people, notably the people in my elder community, engage me and introduce me to a form of authenticity that gives me hope for life. I admire that, and I want to be around them, as we struggle to be true to the nature that endowed us with this precious chance.
I know I have wanted to be seen my entire life. The loneliness I feel so deep in my body is a product of that longing. There is no such thing as coming home, for me, without some sense of being known. This is the kind of sustaining food that I crave — being known, not as a therapist, community-builder, lover of art, music, poetry, men and women, but as a holy mystery, a part of the greater whole that lives through us. I crave the puppy pile of sharing recognition of this deeply mysterious existence. Admiring others, knowing them as they pass through, and bravely try to shape this existence, is such a gift, one that goes both ways, one that makes Life all that much more a miracle.
I’m glad I get to share it with you. And, I admire how you have done it.