August 31, 2013

Musings on Mortality. ~ Gabriela Díaz Musmanni

Newsflash: We’re Gonna Die

Lately, whenever I look at my fellow humans, I have intermittent visions of what they’re going to look like when their bodies become crumpled little carcasses.

I see grey hair, spotted skin and knobby, arthritic limbs. I feel the urge to smack them (gently) and ask them if they realize that outward decay is unstoppable.

If we live long enough and don’t end up meditating in forests, the day will come when we will have to depend on others to take us to the toilet and wipe our asses. We won’t be able to shower alone, our teeth will fall out and we’ll have to be spoon fed. No amount of Ashtanga will prevent it. Our bodies are going to be discarded. Our time here is finite. In fact, are we even here?

Most of us feel slightly uncomfortable at the thought of aging.

Once, on a trip to Nepal, a friend and I stood next to a sacred river for what felt like hours watching public cremations. We were high and watched every detail reverently, speechlessly. We were the only foreigners in the audience and I have no idea how we ended up there.

Families would approach the river bank, wailing and waiting as the body of a loved one, set on a stone platform and wrapped in white cloth, went up in smoke.  I remember the smell. I remember the occasional scorched hand that would become visible as the flames subsided. I remember wondering how these families felt about sharing their grief with so many spectators. But I was too young to consider that one day my friend and I would be as dead as these flaming corpses.

We were having such a good time.

I’m not much older now, but over the last two years, I’ve been taking care of a cancer patient. I’ve sat endless hours in chemotherapy wards and radiotherapy waiting rooms, cursing my fate for leading me there, praying for an escape route for my restless, nomadic spirit.

Over time, I’ve watched other cancer patients of all ages decay, some to their deaths. The body of the patient that brought me there, my mother’s, is nearing the end of its days.

Because I have known (and loved) this body from the day I was born, witnessing its decay has offered astonishing insights.

The main one is that aging is beautiful and the death of our bodies is merely the liberation of love.

Who is to say that a pair of pale, wrinkly legs that no longer hold us up is not a beautiful sight? It’s terribly beautiful, just as beautiful as a set of golden, muscular legs. Each part of the process of life is beautiful, if only we can appreciate it.

Like the corpses burning by the side of the Bagmati River in Nepal, these bodies may as well go up in flames one day. They are a gift, a temporary one and we can do with them as we will.

We can engage in activities that will precipitate death or worship our bodies as temples designed to help us reach a higher understanding, guarding the divinity within all of us. It doesn’t matter, either way, the lessons that are meant for us to learn will arrive. Most of them will come near the time of death.

In life, death helps us understand how silly it is to obsess over a great many things: a few extra pounds, money, unruly hair, anything flammable.

The next time you are terribly stressed, consider that your body may be hit by a bus in a few minutes. I guarantee that it will help you relax.

The next time that you feel too lazy to follow your dreams, consider that you may not have as much time as you think.

Death-awareness changes everything.

When I see the look on my mother’s eyes these days, I know that she’s looking into some other realm, that her soul is peeping out. It looks peaceful and wise. I lock eyes with this soul and I’m grateful for the gift of life and to have been shoved into this caretaker role that revealed many of the lessons that I was searching for, or avoiding, all over the world.

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Asst. Ed: Kristina Peterson/Ed: Sara Crolick

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Gabriela Díaz Musmanni