It seems that life and death are inextricably intertwined, and the two do indeed have a great deal to do with each other. Death emphasizes the preciousness of life, and the sanctity of these few moments carefully, albeit predictably, bookended by a birth and a death, in the same way that the black marks of these letters make the white around them more bright. Death provides the greatest contrast for living.
One Sunday, we found ourselves at the Self Realization Fellowship, a non-religious meditation center. One of the yogic monks there offered to give our dog, Dimitry, a short service to help our children have closure and understand his passing. After reading a beautiful passage form the Bhagavad Gita, the kind monk read a quote from a story floating around the internet. I can't find the real author of this, so if any of you know, please post it in the comments section. It's called, "Love like a dog":
"If a dog was your teacher you would learn things like:
When loved ones come home, always run to greet them.
Never pass up the opportunity to go for a joyride.
Allow the experience of fresh air and the wind in your face to be pure ecstasy.
Stretch before rising.
Run, romp, and play daily.
Thrive on attention and let people touch you.
Avoid biting when a simple growl will do.
On warm days, stop to lie on your back on the grass.
On hot days, drink lots of water and lie under a shady tree.
When you're happy, dance around and wag your entire body.
Delight in the simple joy of a long walk.
Never pretend to be something you're not.
If what you want lies buried, dig until you find it.
When someone is having a bad day, be silent, sit close by, and nuzzle them gently.
Enjoy every moment of every day."
Our friend, the yogic monk, had designed this service to be simple enough for our small children to understand. And yet I found his words profound. He went on to quote a 6 year-old named Shane, who realized why dogs live such short lives. He explains, "People are born so that they can learn how to live a good Life -- like loving everybody all the time and being nice, right? Well, dogs already know how to do that, so they don't have to stay as long."
It seemed the theme of death would be very present in those few days. When we next wandered out of our front door we discovered a squirrel who had been flattened by a car. And then our neighbors house caught on fire, and we watched the fireman carry her to the ambulance in a stretcher (she did recover). And while this closeness to death raises questions about what happens next, about where that life force that once animated the lifeless body of the squirrel has flown away to, it has raised even more questions about what's happening now. Knowing that it will end, what's important? Knowing that it will end, how fully are we living?
The theme of death this autumn, the season of dying, has brought home the realization that we are alive for now. We are left with a deepened impulse to live, love, and savor the sanctity of these fleeting moments.