I was in Owen Sound doing my laundry at the preferred laundromat when the call came on my cell phone, from a dearly beloved family member who cares deeply about me too. She is quite religious in a way that I am not. We talk about it sometimes, but have learned not to let it come between us.
She had something to tell me she thought I should know. She had had a dream a couple of nights before, a “vivid” dream about me having died. She didn’t know how it had happened. She said it made her cry. She took it as a message from God, the message being that I should be baptised and otherwise get ready. I said I had already been baptized as an adult, though many years ago. She said there have been recent changes in my life, which is true, and I should be baptised again, taking them into consideration.
I wasn’t surprised or dismissive towards her, on the contrary. I wasn’t taken aback, except in a good sense, by the remarkable timing of her dream and its subject – my death, and getting ready for it.
Now, before anyone gets turned off by the apparent morbidity of this topic, let me say I’ve had second thoughts about it being about me, or anyone else for that matter, getting ready for death. It’s really about getting ready for life and the idea that it’s never too late to do that. And that’s not just a question of age, it’s also about putting down the burden that makes people – way, way too many – feel bad about themselves, and hopeless.
And, by the way, I think that last point speaks to an age-old problem that continues to be a huge societal, and now even global issue, as well as a personal tragedy.
I told my beloved, well-meaning caller that, coincidentally, I had already been thinking a lot lately about what she was saying, about “getting ready.” She hoped I didn’t take it wrong. I said, “No, of course not, you are a messenger, and you had to deliver the message.”
Having been a working journalist for many years I know the value of having a deadline. It does tend to focus the mind. (Too many “stories” to cover in that usually brief period can also be overwhelming, and very stressful, and ultimately non-productive. Life is like that too, which is why I say, don’t try to do too much.)
When I was younger, up until, say, about six months ago, I thought on some level I was going to live forever. Procrastination came easy. I still feel young at heart. But lately I have to admit a few parts are starting to wear out, and at a certain time of the day I don’t have a lot of energy. It worries me, I confess, though I try, not always successfully, to resist the temptation to think, and especially feel like my time is running out.
Of course, it always is, and this present moment, however long and wonderful, or not, is the only one we’ve got.
The question is not how do we “get ready” for death; it’s how do we get ready to live in that moment, in a way that does justice to ourselves, and life, and our spiritual well-being.
There is, for want of a better word, a process involved in doing that. I’ve written in a previous blog about “taking out the garbage,” for example. Hopefully, the process itself can be a “moment” as I mean it here.
Why does it matter anyway? For lots of reasons, but for me, this one especially: I have good reason to believe the human spirit exists in some sort of knowing way after death, that it is even capable of acting in protection of those it loves who are still alive.
My sister who lives in Florida – Hello, Susan – has told me what happened to her when, as a little girl living in Los Angeles shortly after our father died, she developed a serious infection in an eye. She was hospitalized and treated, but the infection spread. The doctors said there was nothing more they could do. Later that night she felt a presence in the hospital room. At first she thought it was a doctor or a nurse checking on her, but she couldn’t see anyone. She continued to feel the presence drawing near. Then something, or someone, touched the eye where the infection had started.
The next morning the doctors were amazed to see the infection that had been spreading rapidly had started to heal, and she was soon out of the hospital, ready go on living to become the wonderful person she is.
She believes, as do I, that the “presence” was our father’s spirit come to her aid.
I should take a moment here to explain I also have a brother David who lives in the Chicago area. He and Susan have the same mother, my father’s second wife.
Shortly before our father died in 1970 of ALS, in a Los Angeles nursing home, their mother arranged for a priest to visit him. He was a Russian Orthodox priest who spent several hours talking with Dad in private. And then he baptised him. I don’t think Dad had ever been baptised before, not even as a child. The man I knew was not religious. But from what I can gather from what Susan and David have told me he found some spiritual peace and consolation that day.
I also don’t want to go troubled into that after-life sphere, or perhaps exist in some kind of eternal torment, neither here nor there, because I never put life right.
I will leave this moment now, open a seed catalogue and put together an order for this coming season’s garden here at Cathedral Drive. And I’ll let my heart enjoy that quiet, hopeful moment.