Buddhism teaches us that we must accept our demise, the end, the shuffling off of the mortal coil, before we can fully appreciate now. We can only fully live in the moment when we’ve come to terms with the fact that there may not be some far off, dew encrusted, “later” when we can sit down, take a breather, and glory in being a living, thinking, being. The whole idea of living mindfully seems to be one of those thoughts that has either migrated to paganism or was also inherent in paganism, but perhaps wasn’t articulated as well considering the fledgling state of Pagan theology. Paganism itself is such a broad category I hesitate to define what a core element is absolutely for everyone, but this is there in every entreaty to flow with the seasons, and I’ve never met a pagan who is anti-Gaia. Either way, it seems to be inherent in any religion that follows the cycles of nature. Death holds as important a spot on the wheel of life as birth. They must both hold positions of honor and have their day of power. In a way it is comforting as a write to know that every story has an end, since not having a great ending can be the ruination of an otherwise wonderful and interesting story. I’m also a Northeasterner who came from a long tradition of “there’s always work to be done” (Puritanism) and “if you’re having fun it’s probably wrong” (Puritanism AGAIN), so you can imagine how long it took me to internalize the value of the freedom of acceptance. (I’m being lead to a kinky bondage scene for some reason with these words…Hmmm.) My life began mired in the religious propaganda of the struggle and war against sin and evil. Free time and daydreaming are looked down on in the micro society I called home because they gave you time to dream of wrong things (like the kinky bondage) or think the wrong things (Sex again?), and both are necessary to think through the deeper questions of life.
Christianity, the religion I extricated myself from to pursue a care free pagan life (No, seriously, I thought there would be very little responsibility beyond myself at the beginning.), is also focused on death, but not in the same way as pagans or Buddhists. The Fire and Brimstone brand I grew up with focused too much time on not only the horrors of the pit (Nary a marshmallow in sight, only demons and Satan, who apparently doesn’t have anything better to do than torture people.), but the death of Christ. The violent, horrific, death of Christ at the hands of barbarous, Roman (Read: Heathen/Pagan/Xenophobia Induced “Other”) soldiers because death was something to be feared, not accepted. Why? Jesus accepted his death, even though he had that moment of pure humanity when he asks, “Why me?”, which made that whole story more believable and made me like the man better. Death is to be feared because in Christianity, or at least in this version of it, death leads to your judgment, and everyone will be found lacking. Not real comforting is it? It also doesn’t tend to lead someone down the path of enlightenment. Fire and Brimstone Christianity builds community of a certain sort based on fear and trauma, which is a rickety footbridge to stand on, especially with a large group of people. This type of atmosphere has people helping others to further their own agenda, which means they are more likely to abandon the community at the first sign of trouble and turn all of their focus inward, pulling away their support, which will leads others to do the same until you either have a community of faceless strangers smiling politely at each other across pews or even worse infighting and backbiting at the slightest provocation so that one member of the community can look better, stronger, brighter-and therefore be more worthy of God’s love, which he doles out by the thimbleful and pulls back at the slightest proof of humanity. People who spend their childhoods in these types of churches and who manage to get away and detox or deprogram are scarred in various ways. It changes people. It leaves them aching for a place to belong, but afraid to try to find it.
I came from this type of background.
The acceptance of my meat wagon ceasing to exist was hard to deal with after I found myself beyond the indestructability of teenhood. I’m not exactly an oldster yet, but my life has forced me to face death more than once and acknowledge the very real possibility (and inevitability) of my own as well. The acceptance of death, and I’m not talking about obsessively making it centrifocal to my life like I did as a child and adolescent (the guidance counselor did not appreciate my poems personifying death), just going, “Okay, this is going to happen at some point,” made me realize that a sense of community and community building is absolutely necessary to life for people who have come to the point where they’ve had the existential crisis and come out the other side. If you do accept morbidity as an actuality, but can’t bring yourself to trust people, a subsuming and consuming depression might enter the scene. If I accept the fact that I am going to die, and any moment could be my last, I have to have a sense of responsibility and love for the people around me to continue putting in a hard day’s work at any endeavor. I can’t be running along fueled on greed. I have to love the people who are going to come along after me and reap the rewards of my labor if I kick the bucket tonight while I’m asleep. I can’t stop planning for the future.
I’m talking about a sense of community and not necessarily a sense of family because even if I didn’t have a blood family who would benefit from my demise I have friends and neighbors who might be able to come along and at least add some new reads to their library. I don’t have a lot by way of material possessions to leave behind, but I’ve left a lot of words in my wake. A lot of thoughts and ideas and memories were made. Until all of my friends die themselves there is always the chance that they might bust out with one of those stories, about that one time I did this, that, or the other thing. (That night I got drunk and puked in a bathroom that wasn’t my own for a few hours, punched out a suitor, kissed my ex-boyfriend’s girlfriend and slept rolled up like a burrito in a bed that wasn’t mine before kicking my best friend (who also liked that girl I kissed) awake who was sleeping under a desk to ask what time it is…yeah, that one gets told a lot. I’m not sure what I would have to do to stop the retelling of that St. Patty’s Day night escapade. It probably wouldn’t be legal in most states.) In the end, if I’m not talking about money or as might have been beneficial in antiquity a defensible home or food stockpile that could be shared amongst my family and neighbors, what am I talking about?
I’m talking about being helpful or useful in some small way while I’m here, even if it is only as an entertainer. If I write a story someone likes and reads more than once I count it as a win. If I see someone having a bad day I might ask them if there is anything I can do to help. Lend an ear. I might watch someone’s kid for them while they go to the doctor or shovel my neighbor’s steps and sidewalk. If I leave a family member 10,000 dollars or if I visit them every Sunday for a year they’re far more likely to remember my visits fondly than what they bought with my money. (Which is good because I don’t have 10k.)
Community is as important as family, especially given that some people don’t have blood family they can point to or want to point to, and we should all find meaningful ways to help out locally in both the mundane and pagan communities and globally, if at all possible. Even a few hours a month of volunteering, or helping out a neighbor or friend, or tossing a few dollars to a local charity makes a difference over time. I’m not feeling very creative at the moment, so I’m sure other people could come up with some better things to be doing in the community, but the point is to think them up and commit the time or money if you can to doing them. This article turned into a touchy, feely, Yule season post at its core, but I didn’t intend for it to be. It really didn’t start out that way. I started thinking about all of this stuff while writing poetry (some mediocre poetry) for Himself, and since the poetry wasn’t working out the way I’d hoped these meandering thoughts took precedence.
Feel free to take them with a grain of salt or two, and have a Happy New Year!
I’m going to go shovel our sidewalk. Again.
Please drink responsibly. Either stay home and booze, get a cab (You lucky urbanites you. I know you country folk don’t have this option.), or have a designated driver (Pay this person in money or favors. They probably should not be sexual. Negotiate beforehand while sober.). Never drink and drive.