Do you ever have days or weeks or months where you want a respite that is a little beyond a vacation or a sabbatical, but isn't totally permanent. As in stone, cold, forever dead?
I don't have a death wish and I'm not suicidal, but I do have days when I think dead sounds nice for a little bit. There's something attractive about it. Something liberating... And yet, I'm not at all interested in its permanence. I like being alive—even when it's painful, draining, and demoralising—because I know the good outweighs the bad, and because love and laughter exist and make it all worth it at the end of a shitty day.
I grew up in a religion that teaches its adherents that we—the human race—lived before this life and that we will live again after this life. (Granted, my religion also teaches that the afterlife is a multi-level marketing scheme of glories and exaltations, but no religion is perfect now, is it?)
For many years that was comforting for me. It was a knowledge I carried with me from a young age when my first grade teacher—Ms. Bills—died of a brain tumor and it fell to my mother to explain the vagaries of life and death to a six-year old.
Ms. Bills, she told me, had gone on to a spirit world where she was at peace and happy and where everything was beautiful—a place of effulgent spring mornings with fields of tulips and chirping robins and warm sunshine. She was free, my mother explained, from earthly cares and concerns and had been reunited with her loved ones who had preceded her in death.
I held on to that notion for decades, and sometimes—despite my lack of participation in the faith of my mothers and fathers—I still believe that. That there is more to this life than just simply being and dying.
Other days, I think, this is it. When I die, I die. The end. All I will be is six feet under pushing up daisies, as the television shows say. I'll be worm food. Microbial fodder. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
Of course, having paid a lot of tithing over the years into the same religion that told me there was more to death after life than just being dead, I'm hoping it's a little more of the former than of the latter, because if it isn't, I want my money back, dammit!
But getting back to that idea of being free from earthly cares and concerns, being unfettered by those things that make us and those around us mortal—"only human," as we like to say—and therefore prone to cause one another pain. That idea of freedom holds a certain appeal...
The other day I told a friend, I sometimes wish I could have a clean slate. Especially when life has been particularly gunky and agonisingly grown-up. She said, we can never really have a clean slate because we are part of that slate.
Ah, the rub. We can be our own worst (or best) asset.
And yet, she's right. And try as we might, our slate will never be entirely devoid of chalk dust or gouges.
How does one reach a place of eternal rest and repose without actually cashing it all in?
I’m reminded of a story about a talented young man who was horribly injured and lost the ability to practice his craft. A gifted musician, he found himself unable to play the violin any longer and he began to drift into bitterness and anger. His therapist began engaging in art therapy with this youth and one day, the boy drew a picture of a cracked and broken vase to describe how he felt about his mangled body. The therapist filed it away and continued to work with him over the next year.
Eventually, through ongoing physical and occupational therapy, the young man became less bitter and angry and he started to move forward. A year after his accident, the therapist pulled out his file on the young man and extracted the drawing of the vase. Placing it in front of him, he asked about the drawing and his feelings about himself then versus now. In reply, the young man picked up a yellow marker and began drawing lines from the cracks and chinks in the vase. The therapist asked, “What is that?”
“That,” said the young man, “is where the light shines through.”
Perhaps this feeling of wanting some kind of release and repose is really more indicative of having forgotten that the cracks and chinks in my vase—or the dust and gouges on my slate—are really the places where the light shines through.
In a world that sees only the cracks and not the light, though, that presents its own special challenge. Namely that I have allowed myself to believe others when they tell me I am nothing but a worthless, cracked vase.
So, again, I ask: How does one reach a place of rest and repose without cashing it all in? How does one deafen the roar of the cynics and the critics and the dismissive and let the light shine through?
Because right now, I feel like I’m just six feet under pushing up daisies and I want my money back, dammit!