Talking About Death

It’s always there, death, but we don’t often speak about it, and when it shows up close to home — affecting family or friends, making us catch our breath as we read the newspaper or watch the evening news — we often don’t have the words we need, for ourselves, for others.

When my grandmother died, a friend of my mom’s gave her a wonderful book, In Lieu of Flowers: Conversations for the Living, by Nancy Cobb.  Ms. Cobb is an eloquent writer, and her book is wise, funny, insightful, and comforting, full of poems and quotations from many different authors and thinkers, stories from people she’s interviewed, and her own stories, her own careful and deep thinking about death and dying. I feel lucky to have this book in my life.

I’ve found this book so helpful that I now order five or six copies at a time so that I have them on hand.  As either a sign of the age I am, or just the confluence of events in the year that’s passed, I am now preparing the card to go out with my last copy. Life being what it is, and dying twinned with it, I will be ordering more.

A quote from Thomas Moore opens one of her chapters:

I think we would be able to live in this world more peaceably if our spirituality were to come from looking not just into infinity but very closely at the world around us –and appreciating its depth and divinity.

Cobb looks very closely at the world around her, and finds the divinity in it, here and now.

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Through all that happens

D&J Shadow“As you unfold as an artist, just keep on, quietly and earnestly, growing through all that happens to you.  You cannot disrupt this process more violently than by looking outside yourself for answers that may only be found by attending to your innermost feeling.”

        — Rilke,
            Paris, February 17, 1903
            Letters to a Young Poet
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The impeded stream is the one that sings

Impeded streamThe Real Work

by Wendell Berry

It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,

and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.

The impeded stream is the one that sings.

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My Sweet

Heart FingersAn Immorality 

By Ezra Pound

Sing we for love and idleness,
Naught else is worth the having.

Though I have been in many a land,
There is naught else in living.

And I would rather have my sweet,
Though rose-leaves die of grieving,

Than do high deeds in Hungary
To pass all men’s believing.

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A Special Stripe of Innocence

Tiger Bronx ZooHow many people do you know who visit New York City and say that what they want to do is go to the zoo?   Last month my brother Jeff came to visit and that was one of the things he said he’d like to do.    I told him that in all my years in NYC (almost 30 now, sheesh!) I’d never been to the Bronx Zoo.

Jeff has always been the outdoorsman of our family; we used to call him Mark Trail — after the daily comic strip character for those of you old enough to remember – because of his propensity to strike out on his own adventures in “the woods,” admirably learning to hunt and fish all on his own.  So while the zoo wasn’t on my host list, I thought hey, why not?  It sure beat the heck out of the standard tourist jaunts like schlepping up the Empire State Building or waiting for the boat to Liberty Island (which, truth be told, Jeff and his kids had already seen in prior visits).  Plus, I’d be guided by my own friendly, family, self-made mountain man brother to answer questions.

It was a delightful time, despite it being an overcast winter day with most animals kept inside.  And afterwards I wondered why I don’t go more often.  Why don’t people ever think of going zoos, except mostly when they want to take the kids somewhere fun?  I did find some great answers to why people do visit zoos in this NY Times article last weekend.  And it was a good reminder of what it means to be a human being, and to appreciate all the other beings in our world.

Oh and thanks, Mr. Trail!

BTW, here are some videos from that trip to the zoo, and from the day before, when after walking along the Coney Island boardwalk, Jeff spied the Aquarium there and insisted we check it out.  I’m glad we did.  Another eye-opener for me.  The Aquarium jellyfish are amazing!

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I wish I’d…

1937, Tarentum, PA; Ron Novak & Paul Chizmar

1937, Tarentum, PA; Ron Novak & Paul Chizmar

Here is a link to a beautiful article written by Bronnie Ware, a palliative care practitioner in Australia.  If these aren’t great tips for wawdwolers, I don’t know what is.  Thank you, Bronnie.  Live, Love, Laugh.  Here are the basics:

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

2. I wish I didn’t work so hard.

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

Do yourself a favor today and read the whole article.

(BTW, this old pic is of my great grandpa, Paul Chizmar, a real sport, schooling my uncle Ron Novak, his grandson, on one way to live more happily.)

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Laugh Heartily!

Girl & camel“When you realize how perfect everything is you will tilt your head back and laugh at the sky.”

— Buddha ~ ♥ ~

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