Encountering Death to Learn About Life (special edition)
As my time as a college student ends, I’ve taken some time to reflect on death and the fleetingness of life. While these journals are somewhat personal, they may perhaps encourage you to think about your life…
Excerpt from Jackson’s “Encounters with Death: Field Notes”
Death of a Student
Today I encounter my impending death: my death as a college kid. The first season of life is at an end. Sure there are a few weeks left. But it’s already over. Although I’m 23, my 20s are already over. I realize now, that my life is already over. Because practically speaking, that’s how it goes.
Dogen Zenji said “even though it’s midnight, dawn is here; even though dawn comes, it’s nighttime.” What’s next is already here. Before night is over, morning comes.
When we consider our perception of time this becomes clearer. When I was 18 graduating high school my favorite teacher said he had nothing to tell us, no advice, just that we’ll bend down to tie our shoes and when we stand back up we’ll be 50. For fear of this being true I merely glanced down at my shoestrings. And now I’m 23.
I’m scared that if I stop to tie them my whole life will pass me by. The truth is it makes no difference. It passes all the same. In fact, it’s already passed by. Before night is over, morning comes.
In the Cemetery
My uncle Julio has a cabin in the cloud forest of Costa Rica. It sits by a small cemetery. He always said they’re the best neighbors. I don’t have much commentary for that. But it’s stuck with me.
As I walk through the cemetery, I imagine – I don’t imagine, rather I experience what imagination displays in front of my unfocused mind – a scenario in which I sit down on one of these cement boxes to write. Someone approaches me, perhaps a security guard, and takes exception to my seat.
It’s an act of disrespect towards the dead to do such a thing. I say “why don’t you ask Mr. Globetti here if he’s bothered and see what he has to say?”.
How’s sitting on a box of bones any different than sitting on a rock? No matter where you sit, you can be sure that many things have died there. The point is death brings out the most base of ritual, symbolism, and foolishness in us. It’s like someone in water who can’t swim frantically struggling for anything to cling to, not knowing that if they were to give up this panicking they’d float just fine.
When I die – I like to imagine about this too – I’ll be quite ready. I can hear myself.
“I’ve been waiting for you death! And you have been waiting for me. I’m coming home.”
That’s the truth. Where were we before we were born? That’s why I say I’m coming home.
We mistake death as a departure from living. But living is a departure from death. A tree bursts from the ground for a time then rots back into it. A little boy stops to tie his shoes and stands up an old man. A star blazes into existence then fades away. Like a flash of lightning in the night sky, all things are such.
Dogen Zenji said, “everything is just a flashing into the vast phenomenal world.” Things flicker out of noneness into suchness. (Noneness is where pre-birth and post-death are.) But when we see our existence in this way, we can feel very grateful.
What a privilege it is to be this flash in the dark of night! The infinite improbably and absurdity of it brings me to tears as I write. The Bible had it wrong; we weren’t expelled from Eden to this world. This lovely green oasis is our Eden. The Gift of God is that we may be a flashing into this beautiful peopled garden for a lifetime.
To see yourself – and everything you hope, fear, and love – as a flashing into the Garden of Eden. This is, I think, the true treasure of life.