Monday 7 February 2011

Transience and Death

I was going to launch my final Radio Chadderbox, but I've decided to hold it just for a moment given the real Lesley's actual blog entry made on Sunday. She refers to her father, and the sad reality now that isn't what is of memory. Death seems close, and before it lingering failures.

In a way, I was referring to this experience on Sunday morning in my service. My service about time going backwards - an impossibility - is nevertheless a device that, in a way, Lesley is using, even at a big jump backwards. We imagine what was, but it cannot be now or ever.

When dealing with ageing, there is a real difficulty in providing any sort of Judaeo-Christian 'hope' without getting into superstition and supernatural speculations, all of which are useless and, I'd suggest, counterproductive. This is an example where, as in Buddhism, compassion is sometimes just coming to terms with what is indeed quite tough.

That is to say there is nothing but the fleeting moment, of randomness going forwards, and narrative going backwards (what has been). For a long time I have held to the importance of transience, and that the task of religion is to come to terms with transience and indeed the end. In that is the spiritual task of compassion, but that compassion must be wise, eyes wide open and in the moment. It needs patience, but nothing lasts long.

The fact is that we die over a very fine line, but an absolute one. On her last day I spoke to my mother who no longer opened her eyes, but she shuffled in her bed as a response. When I spoke about leaving, she then gave a choke and died. She was existing at a point between life and death, and could choose death. But she had already died a thousand thousand times from transient ischaemic attacks that bit by bit had shut down parts of her brain and changed her behaviour. She had an untreated cancer and didn't even receive pain relief. She slept more and more.

This thin person was puffed up and made artificial in an open coffin in a cold funeral parlour. My close friends and I went and looked, but this was a hideous and ridiculous sight compared with who had lived and then died, even after death. This had everything to do with extension, permanence even and those suffering from attachment.

The fact is that we are biological units, and we simply cannot escape this. Evolution produces great successes, but it does not produce perfection - we successful humans pay for this in backache, for example. We always age and we rot, and what we remember as good, and innocent, and fun and so worthwhile, so trusting, is always of a time.

So when someone is near dying, we pause, but we live our lives too, and we go on and we go towards a similar sort of place. We must go on with our own dilemmas, valuing the moment if we can.

As Friedrich Nietzsche put it: when all this is known, would we have it repeat and repeat (another device, like going backwards); can we still say Yes to life? If we can say Yes, despite it all, then we are to be fully human and spiritually sure. But it is very difficult when so much says no.

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