04/13/2012 07:16 pm ET Updated Jun 13, 2012

Into the Din of Life Comes the Quiet Hush of Death

The noise and flurry of life is cacophonous at times. The demands of work and family, the vagaries of relationships, the roar of political opposition and religious divides. There are outrages over vigilante murders and politician's wives. Racial animus is couched in birth certificates and Tea Parties. We deflect the fear of zealots, feel the worry of have-nots, question social behaviors and remain inspired by passion and creativity. We listen and watch. We write and comment and link and tweet and it all builds up and up and up until, in a snap of exhaustion, we step away to breathe in warm toast and walk down a quiet lane where no one talks and there is no viewpoint to have or argue against. Respite... necessary and rejuvenating.

Until we leap back in, back into the fray of living. Because that's what life is: leaping. We want to be in it, to participate and speak up. We know it's important, whether political, personal, animal, vegetable or mineral. We fight for what we believe, we take responsibility for that for which we are responsible, and we leave no stone unturned in the pursuit of destiny and purpose. Busy, busy, busy.

Until we find ourselves at the bedside of a dying friend and then it all... just... slows... down.

Life, in that moment, becomes a different beast. Still and quiet, it is removed from the chaos of outside. It is... hushed. In a darkened room where machines hum and nurses glide and a once-strong man lies pale and thin, you are so close to Death you can touch and feel it. The silence is like church and all that was blaring outside becomes moot, disappearing in the whisper of something profound and spiritual. A human life is ending.

It's easy to forget -- when you're knee-deep in the process of living -- that Death is up ahead somewhere waiting to be dealt with, an inevitable passage we ponder and fear. We wisely do our best to avoid it until absolutely necessary and when it arrives, a dreaded guest both expected and uninvited, we suffer its paradoxical presence as either the observer or participant we are. We have more questions than can ever be answered and though it looms large, it is a thing of choked whispers and difficult conversations. We want to pretend it away, whistle past every graveyard, push it off until it's breathing just inches from our face. We know we must, but it's hard to embrace something so unknown, so enigmatic, so final... or not. We don't know. We ask, we have ideas, we've been told certain things, but who really knows what Death is? It's the Great Grand Mystery we will all share and can only guess at. Our one most common, uncommon, denominator.

But it behooves us to think about Death from time to time, sometimes even at the most vibrant of moments. A still, gentle awareness of the impermanence of it all puts into perspective the value of what we have and our subsequent gratitude. The reflection needn't be morbid, just a frank and honest assessment of finite time and how best to use it. A recognition that contributes to what we prioritize, how we conduct ourselves, who we gather to our circle and how we contribute to our legacy. Death's inevitability should be humbling, should mitigate our greed, demand our integrity and compel us to live with honor and good will. It gives us a framework, a deadline, however unknown, and we are wise to respect its design.

But then there is the reality of Death, up close and personal... for someone loved and with whom you shared a life and times. You sit in that quiet room, in the protective huddle of friends, sharing this moment and doing what you can to honor what is happening. You hold a fragile hand and distract from pain with laughter and stories remembered. Someone leans over with a cup of water and a bent straw. Others come by with coveted pizza and forgotten stories that bring both smiles and tears. Calls come in, cards are sent and expressions of support are offered to a family deeply entrenched in this process of closure and forgiveness, a rite that reduces both the minutia and the enormity of life to its most basic, simple essence. Life to death. It puts everything into perspective.

My friend reaches out with his thin, clenched hand and asks me to tap it, to make an oath. A promise that if we ever are to return, if we actually do get another go-around, that we'll find a way to reconnect with joyful purpose to continue and complete what we weren't able to finish this time. Our projects, our dreams, our grand plans that didn't get accomplished before Death came to this group of ours. I smile and tap his fist with my own. So do others. It's been decided. Death is an interruption, but we're still on track. We can only hope so.

Goodbyes are said, not certain if this is the last or that one is yet up ahead. We say things like, "See you soon," and there is unspoken knowledge that it might be next week, it might be in that hoped-for next life. Eyes connect, smiles touch and sadness wafts like a gentle fog. We leave the room and head back into sharp sunlight and the momentarily overwhelming blare of... life.

So loud, the noise and flurry of living.