Coming and Going

A friend recently texted a group of us a photo of her delightful new grandson not long after his birth. The previous text to this particular group communicated a moment of caring for her dying father.

Seeing this entering and leaving the world in such close proximity brought home to me how natural both stages are. We are not designed to stick around.

I once heard about an indigenous people—I don’t recall where they live—who instead of considering death the opposite of life considers it the opposite of birth. We arrive on this planet, spend some time here, and depart. We come into being, we exist, and we cease to be.

Richard Rohr says, “Your life is not about you. You are about life.” We participate in this cosmic evolution, this ongoing creation, but we are not the point. Perhaps getting this backward makes us reticent to even think about our own ending.

Of course the idea of not existing is terrifying because all we have consciously known is existence, but if we considered the significance of our existence differently, maybe leaving it would be less scary. We are not so much individual identities walking around as we are parts of a greater whole.

We can see it concretely in the DNA passed on from my friend’s father to his great grandson. In a very real way those genes form them but don’t belong to them. The people are expressions of the genes, which existed before them and will continue after them.

In a similar way, we are each expressions of Spirit. In her book God’s Ecstasy, Beatrice Bruteau likens God to the dancer and creation to the dance. Though a dance can be broken down into individual movements, it’s the relationship between the movements, the flow of movement, the giving way of one movement to the next, that makes it a dance.

Each movement is beautiful and necessary and significant. Without any one movement, the dance is not the same. At the same time, every bend of the knees and arch of the back exists only for the dance.

A dance is ephemeral, and so are we. It’s also beautiful, and so are we—in our being born, in our living, and in our dying.

2 thoughts on “Coming and Going

  1. A beautiful essay Rachel. I very much like how the indigenous people you mentioned see death as the opposite of birth – as a return? as an exit? Into what or where? I wonder how they viewed this.
    The great question that speculation around this issue raises is whether personal identity continues beyond death, and participates in some greater process or journey. Sunim has likened the continuation of a person’s identity from one life to the next to the transmission of a fax – it is an identical copy, but it is not the same as the original. I think the idea is that the details and conditions that account for identity are carried forward, but that there is not a hard and fast “essence” that one could name as the person. What I like about this model is that it a) provides the basis for personal responsibility, or karmic consequences if one is using Buddhist terminology; and b) the idea that the conditions that are carried forward mediate and shape the consciousness that arises in a new incarnation. This would accord with a metaphysics that views consciousness as emanating from a sort of unified reservoir, finding many forms of expression that are shaped by the forces and conditions involved in their birth.

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