Tears and Till Kingdom Come

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Yesterday was a day of pain and tears. Pain from inflammation in two nerves in my lower back. Pain from seeing the sadness and grief of a family all too accustomed to grief and loss burying their son, brother, father, husband, and uncle well before his three score and ten. He was 46. I began to weep seeing his stoic father, Vice-President Joe Biden walking towards the church behind the hearse with arms around his granddaughter.

image Seeing the family in their grief broke my heart. Most of my readers must know the story of young Joe losing his wife and infant daughter and nearly losing his two sons ages two and three in a car accident when he was just 30 years old. To bury the oldest of his sons has to be one of the most painful experiences anyone can undergo. My physical pain paled, and yet I found it hard to bear, unable to find even a halfway comfortable position.

 

Chris Martin of the group Coldplay, having learned that Beau Biden had liked their music, gave an acoustic rendition of “Til Kngdom Come” that reached into our hearts.

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Here is a video of Coldplay performing “Till Kingdom Come,” with the lyrics, which I found to be stirring, apt and entirely appropriate for this solemn occasion. I heard several reporters say they wept as they listened.

This music is evocative and poignant, the words ambiguous enough to fit any number of painful situations. Another in this genre that is very frank is “O Death” by Ralph Stanley whose haunting a capella performance I featured on this blog in the past.

My back pain is somewhat better today, as I hoped it would be. The Biden family’s pain is in its infancy, to be felt and honored and processed this whole next year, as Father’s Day, birthdays, Thanksgiving and Christmas come without Beau. Eventually next year at this time the corner will be turned, only a little, but turned, and life will begin to open its doors of beauty and joy to the grieving again. Whatever we may believe about an afterlife, it does get better. And yet, we never forget our ancestors and other loved ones who have gone on before us. How can we?

I will end this post with some words of Metta:

May all beings be free from suffering,

May all beings be at ease,

May all beings be happy,

May all beings have peace.

 

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How Do You Feel About Death?

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I previously wrote and posted O Death here and recommend it now if you haven’t read it yet. A beautiful rendering of the Appalachian hymn “O Death” by now 87 year-old bluegrass musician and national treasure, Ralph Stanley concludes that post.

So, how do you feel about death? It’s a fair question, in my view, since we all will experience it eventually, whether we like to admit it or not. This is a loaded question, perhaps, since the prospect of our own death is rarely a pleasant one, nor even a neutral prospect for many. But this can be an opportunity to think about a tender topic for any who contemplate their own death or that of someone near and dear, now, soon, or in the past.

Please choose all answers that apply to you, and feel free to add an answer of your own that best reflects your view.

After you take the poll, I invite you to take the time to leave a comment here, too.  Thank you for visiting this blog.

Namaste

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O Death

Muerta, courtesy of Rachel's Tacqueria, Brooklyn

Muerta, courtesy of Rachel’s Tacqueria, Brooklyn

O death, where is thy sting?  O grave, where is thy victory?

–1 Corinthians 15:55

O death.

We have been socialized in our Western culture to fear death, to shrink from confrontation with it, and yet we also experience a fascination sometimes with stories about death and loss, morbid curiosity, as it were, although many would deny it.

Today, as every day, in the news, we can see the hand of death everywhere:

  • The Malaysian Air flight missing in the South Indian Ocean with over 200 souls on board
  • The landslide in Washington State that has swept away neighborhoods and taken many lives
  • A man killed on the train platform in New Jersey as he falls before the coming train, amid a crowd of horrified fellow travelers
  • Four healthy lions euthanized in a Danish zoo to make way for a new lion coming into the zoo

Our life experiences eventually bring home to us the fact that all life forms are temporary, and that all living beings will die. As children we may first learn about this truth when a pet dies. Next it might be a grandparent. In our middle years or later, typically, we lose our parents to death. Although it seems that it should never happen, we may lose children to death long before there is any sense it might be “time.” But of course, for most of us, it never feels like the right time for death, except perhaps when we or a loved one are ravaged by illness. Then there is suicide, a potent reminder of how sudden and seemingly permanent death can be and how painful for those who remain behind, trying to figure out why and how and what might we have done to prevent it. And similar, but different from suicide, is the self-immolation of monks making a stark statement about injustice. This is usually accompanied by deep meditative concentration and thoughts of words of the Buddha such as the Heart Sutra.

And for all those dear friends and loved ones who touch our lives for good before their time on earth is done, we find ourselves remembering and missing them intensely until time, a great healer, takes much of the pain of loss away. And so it is.

As we study the wisdom of those who have lived and died before us, we may find peace in believing we all will pass through the gate from life to death and into life again. And all will be well, whether or not we truly understand it now.

O death, how we wish away your reality and only meet you on your terms when at last we are ready to understand your truths. I leave you with the immortal music of Ralph Stanley singing “O, Death”:

And today, this is my practice.

Namaste

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