Death. Hospitals. Life.
I don’t want a clean, orderly life. Nor do I wish, metaphorically and literally speaking, to preserve this one beyond its natural length.
Imagine the hall of an intensive care unit in a hospital. White walls and sterile, innocuous pictures on them. Whispers of grieving families. Sleeping patients that make minimal noise, drugged and comatose as they are. I submit that the presence of our current system of hospitals is a physical manifestation of our collective fear of death.
Of course, it’s natural to want to preserve the life of a loved one indefinitely. My own dad wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for recent advanced cardiac procedures, and I’m grateful every minute that he’s still with us. But if hospitals were only about preserving life rather than rejecting death, death would also be welcome as a natural component of life. The problem with hospitals is the problem with us; an inordinate amount of effort is expended to combat dying. It’s because of our fear. We see life and death as opposites rather than as complimentary conditions. The way we use hospitals is mute, tucked-in, lights-dimmed proof of this condition. Most of us are on life-support, barely alive.
This is how we are taught to live.
Being careful not to offend the government, the Jones’ or the cultural mores with which we were raised, we sleep quietly in our metaphorical hospital rooms, obeying the rules, hiding our common internal battles, stifling the innate insurrection of our wild souls that want nothing to do with anything as bland as cultural law, particularly that which exists for its own sake. The soul, after all, cannot die, so the fear of death makes no sense to it. From the perspective of soul, fear of these things is as incomprehensible as a fear of benches.
On the other hand, the wisest and most interesting people I know have no such fear and have no use for hospitals. They seem to want death as often as they can take it.
They live to awaken at the bottom of yet another thousand-foot fall, and laugh as they’ve learned to do when pain is imminent, or just passed. (If they can laugh when pain is present, they are truly spectacular humans.) They lay there for a moment, beholding the depth and solitude that surrounds them at the bottom of such a journey and consider their actions - what they might have done differently, what they’d do over again. The lessons wash over them as they take inventory of both soul and body to see what’s lost and what’s been gained. And then they get up, dust off, and then begin again to climb for the umpteenth time, reborn.
“Maybe I’ll climb the same cliff,” they think. “Or maybe that mountain over there. I haven’t tried that before, and I have nearly no chance to make it.” Smiling, they conclude, “Sounds like fun.”
Fearful people stare at them incredulously from atop the cliff, shaking their heads. “See what happens when you do that?” they tell one another. “Best to stay safe. That woman at the bottom of the cliff wouldn’t have fallen if she’d simply…” Obeyed the rules. Paid her taxes. Stayed in the Church. Not spoken up. In other words, if she’d stayed stagnant and obedient, she would have been safe.
But stagnation…isn’t that the one certain hallmark of death? Sure, it’s safe to be stagnant, but the price is kind of high, isn’t it? Safety is so insufferably boring.
The judgments of the people on the cliff can be worse than the fall itself, coming as they often do from loved ones. Their words can sting like stones cast from far above. But while they can smart for a while, experienced climbers are far more enamored with the potential of an eagle at their shoulder and the thrill of exposure, and are far too focused on the next handhold to let these affect them too much. They learn to press on, decreasingly affected by the words of those who will not attempt activities or a way of life that they term, “too dangerous.” Only those who have fallen multiple times know that at the bottom of a fall to the death is yet another chance at rebirth.
This is the life I choose; the life of the impossible leap. The life of the love of death. The life of immediate karmic redemption. The life of Life and Wisdom that comes after innumerable plunges to my own demise as I eschew what most would call, “a safe life.” After such falls, I pick myself up to remake my life anew with another story to tell, still here against all odds.
My favorite people – and there are more and more of us – are those that do the same. They pick at their own psychic scabs and cry when the blood flows, but bless the spiritual endorphins that bring enlightened understanding and deep compassion. They leap for handholds that, if missed, likely result in searing pain, but that may also bring wisdom that is carefully stowed for the next go-round, in this life or another. They’re fearless because they’ve learned that death is ultimately an illusion.
From there, figuratively or literally, we re-shoulder our backpacks: we find the new job, set new goals, find a new road, trail or path and emerge from the experience that much tougher, that much more compassionate and that much more interesting, with experiential faith in Life and the majesty of our own souls.
This tribe of weary, bruised travelers will each die a final death one day. A death to this system of mortality, anyway. It may very well be on the side of a highway, under a tree in the wilderness, in a lonely cave, half way up a frozen mountain or at the business end of a shotgun. But these will not succumb to a hospital – not the metaphorical kind, at any rate.
Some fates are worse than death.
(Photo by Jimmy Chin)