"I don't have time for epics"-- Anselin Reed, 1986-2006
In early November, it is traditional to honor those whose who have died with celebration and rememberance. In my faith community, we celebrate All Soul's Day with an alter decorated with pictures and token reminders of lost loved ones, and music and thoughtful readings to help us reflect on their gifts to our lives.
It's rare, in America, to be allowed public time for grieving and memorial of those who have died. Even our national holiday has been minimized to a day off and a weekend of sales. Americans have a peculiar need for closure, and a strange idea that grief work has a time limit. I have found that grief comes in waves.
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross's work on the stages of loss was never meant to indicate an ABC orderly procession that ends neatly.
It's two weeks today since my father died, quickly, of a heart attack. It's not that surprising I frequently forget that he's dead and think of something I'll tell him when I visit. Denial of this sort doesn't mean we aren't in touch with reality. Denial is a gift, allowing time for us to adjust to big changes. Other moments I wish I had more of it, when I am gripped with the sadness of having no living parent, and the end of access to some of my history. You live long enough, you are going to say a lot of goodbyes.
Krista Tippet said recently: "Mortality is not at all special, but it is something we manage to avoid an awareness of, especially in Western culture." We like to think there is all the time in the world to mend those fences, hear those stories, figure out what we need or believe. But as the old saw goes: "One hundred years from now, all new people."
We can't and shouldn't live in fear about the very basic fact of life that is its certain outcome. What we can do is spend a little time thinking of the little time we are here, and what we want to do with it. We squander so much. And I am not talking about leisure activities, which are a necessary replenishment (there was an alarming article in CNN tonight about how Americans forfeited 34.3 BILLION dollars worth of vacation time this year). No, I'm talking about the amount of time we spend worrying about ridiculous things, such as whether our thighs are too fat, or what to wear in the morning, or whether we are Right and someone else is The Bad Guy. I don't think it's a bad idea to think about our own inevitable death, and how we want to live in the interim. I'm doing that this week. I've not come to any profound conclusions, except I want to spend less time avoiding stuff (I am a master procrastinator) and more time living the life I say I want. I haven't got very far into practice yet. I hope to spend some time figuring this out. And I want to remember that I can't count on how much time I have. I want to use it well.