Thursday, November 18, 2010

Sudden Death

As readers of The Buddha Diaries are by now well aware, Ellie and I lost a treasured friend recently, after her years' long and courageous battle with illness. This past weekend, in Laguna Beach, we were shocked to hear of another death. A woman, still relatively young, with whom we had sat at the local cafe and chatted only days before leaving on our East Coast trip, had died before our return. We know little of the cause of her death--we understand that it was an aneurysm of some kind--only that it came suddenly and without warning. It seems that she felt ill only hours before she died.

We did not know Karen well--just well enough to know that she loved books, loved literature, and spent her working life in libraries and bookshops. I believe, too, that she championed the cause of literacy. She was working in a bookshop in Laguna Beach at the time of the publication of one of my books, and took a friendly interest in my efforts to promote it. Just a couple of months ago, shortly after completing a draft of my new book of essays, I ran into her at our local Zinc Cafe and she agreed to give it a preliminary reading and some feedback. I brought her the manuscript, which was found by a friend among her belongings after she died and kindly returned to me. This was, indeed, how we heard the distressing news.

Death, then, has been much on my mind in the course of these past few days, along with the reminder that it can come in a multitude of ways--expected or unexpected, after long illness or with shocking suddenness. I cannot predict how mine will occur, or when. I can only predict with absolute certainty that it will come. All the more reason, then, to be grateful for the meditation practice that helps me in some small measure to prepare for that event, and for the teachings that help me to make sense of it all and to put my own prospective death into the larger perspective of the flow of inevitable change. My head and my heart and my gut do not necessarily agree on the prospect of this human life coming to an end, nor do I have any clear understanding or belief about what might then ensue, if anything. But I do have the comfort of the breath to fall back on, with the knowledge that this present moment, if I manage to be in it, must suffice.


TaraDharma said...

what a loss...death throws us off balance for sure, and makes all the familiar things seem alien. I can see how meditation practice is a great tool to stay present and be appreciative of what we have while we have it. It can all go away so quickly. Carpe Diem.

Sorry for your losses, Peter.

CHI SPHERE said...

Each moment is a gift and we sing with the breath that brings a song or a sigh on the path who's end is
never visible.

We are all made from this breath you speak of so keep the song alive here and forever.

Be well and keep watering the garden Peter.

robin andrea said...

I have no words of wisdom. Sometimes I think I will be unafraid, but I don't relish the thought of testing my conviction.