Death doesn’t frighten me as I am sure and content about where I’m going and that there is some place to go. Some of my family and friends are surprised by my confidence in that fact, particularly as they know I don’t practice any denominational religion, but I no longer apologise for that. Over the years it has matured from a sort of believing into a definite knowing and the comfort found within that knowledge has many benefits. It doesn’t stop life’s problems from occurring but it makes going through them much easier.
While I am not frightened of dying I haven’t been thinking about going any time soon. They say we all have a purpose here and while I’m often very insecure and unsure about what mine actually is, I think that no matter how small, I’d like to fulfil it, but, for all I know, I may already have. As humans we have a tendency to think that having a purpose has to be something big and obvious to be worthy. We can fall into the trap of thinking that in order to effect change or have influence we need to be rich or famous or powerful or all three.
Being a good friend to just one person might be all that’s required of you. Having a positive influence on a child could change the entire course of their life and, as a knock on effect, the lives of others and you may never even know you had a part to play. Our purpose doesn’t have to be identifiable or have earth shattering consequences to be as valid and equally important as a Nobel Peace Prize winner’s.
Besides not being sure if I have fulfilled the purpose for my life, there are other reasons why I am not ready to go. As crazy as it sounds even things like the mess in my office, the overflowing ironing basket or the untidy wardrobes concern me. Should I die suddenly, I’d hate anyone to find the mess. I was sitting at my untidy desk last Friday afternoon when I got a text to say that Gerry Ryan had died.
Once confirmed I felt deeply saddened for his family and tried to imagine how shocking it must be for them. It also made me think about the thousands of other families that have gone through the trauma of having someone suddenly and unexpectedly plucked out of the world through sudden death syndrome, car crashes, accidents or murder. That initial announcement about Gerry Ryan made me think of things that I had never properly thought of before and the same question kept popping into my mind, “Are you ready to check out?” The answer of course was “no, I’m not” but I have been pondering all weekend the fact that we should be ready at all times because none of us can ever know the hour or the minute.
Being ready will resonate differently with everyone. For some it will mean enjoying life to the full so that at the end of every day you haven’t wasted it in worry about the future or regret over the past.
For others it will mean repairing relationships. Silly rows that escalate into feuds or incidents where people take sides resulting in fractured families, all revolve around simple cases of being unwilling to forgive, let go and move on. Everyone maintains their silence without ever imagining that one day the opportunity to repair may be gone for ever; with each passing day that risk increases. While rows ensue everyone misses out. Birthdays, births, marriages and other occasions for celebrations come and go; great opportunities for times to show love for one another lost to stubbornness. But have no doubt that they’ll all turn out for a funeral carrying bags of guilt and regret that often turn to anger and bitterness; all avoidable by reconciliation.
On Saturday night last I went along to Garter Lane to see the new Jim Nolan play, Brighton. It’s a beautiful, uplifting peace that centres on the universal themes of love, life and death. There wasn’t a word wasted by any of the characters and the messages that came through so clearly were all about seizing the moment, living life to the full and never throwing any of it away no matter what life throws at you. If life hands you lemons, then make lemonade!
On Sunday night I was at the Theatre Royal for the 25th Anniversary celebrations of Red Kettle Theatre Company. This was a lovely evening that included remembering those that have already gone. As the faces flashed up on a screen I was reminded once again of my own mortality. For some it was just the cycle of life and time to die, for others it was far too early, untimely and the result of illness. Either way, it was lights going out and our lives here on earth being made the poorer.
It was, for me, a weekend focused on life and death and when it comes in such a concentrated form you cannot ignore its prodding. After all these years of knowing John Donne’s poem No Man is an Island it suddenly made sense. “No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as any manner of thy friends or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” Perhaps this is the reason why we feel sadness at the death of people that we don’t even know.
Searching the heart
The events of the weekend made me search my own heart and shed light on plenty of weeds in my own garden that need rooting out before I can honestly say “Yup, I’m ready to go”! It’s a work in progress, but I’ve already tidied out the wardrobe, the ironing pile is now respectable and by the end of today I’m determined that my desk will be fit for a white glove inspection by Kim and Aggie. firstname.lastname@example.org