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August 2, 2011

Which Way to Look?

Photo by 1MoreCreative, iStock Photo
There are days when I think I could have titled this blog, "Getting Along with Death," as well as "Getting Along with Grief."  I spent  time yesterday afternoon with my friend whose son died July 23rd. We shared memories of him:  an Eagle Scout, a cellist, an author, and vanguard software developer with AMD and Microsoft. In fact, on the day of his upcoming service, Microsoft headquarters will fly all flags at half mast to honor him. He was also a husband, father, brother .... and a good one, in all cases. His parents are outstanding people:  kind, giving, intelligent, strong of soul, heart and mind; people who go way out of their way to help others, and often.

I'm not proud of what I feel today, after seeing them yesterday. I feel no shame over my sadness or the tears that come, unbidden and unrelenting.  What I am struggling with, however, is that death--a natural part of life--can feel to me like a colossal unfairness. Or, perhaps I should say, that its timing can appear to me to be an act of colossal unfairness. 

I struggle with this.  Not only in the case of this exemplary, 49-year-old man who still had much to give, but also in the case of children wounded in wars they have nothing to do with, peaceful protestors gunned down this week in Syria, the parents and children in Somalia dying from malnutrition .... 

Here's the core feeling I don't feel proud of: Why do these innocent ones, and good, suffer in this way? Why do they meet an early death, when a lot of mean, stingy, and downright evil people live so much longer?

I once talked to a man who confessed that he had loaded up on qualudes one night and gone on a very fast motorcycle ride--in the Rocky Mountains, and with no helmet. He stayed safe, even as he defied all odds not to.  

Years ago, I worked in a company owned by a multimillionaire, whom I watched humiliate his employees repeatedly, and who would insist that we listen to his n-word jokes. He said we had to listen to them, because we were his "underlings."  He has done so much damage to other people over such a long period of time. I know people who lost great sums of money due to his unethical business dealings. And yet, he continues to prosper and live into a ripe old age.

These thoughts are simplistic, even simple-minded. Life is not a quid-pro-quo system of any kind. Nature is a creation of balance and precision, yes, but fairness?  We invented fairness.  It's a necessary concept for society, for safety, for many situations of human coexistence, but it has nothing to do with the timing of life and death.  

In my defense, I do know that my thoughts are not an attempt on my part to wish any person, no matter how mean or ill-behaved, any kind of harm.  What they do represent is my struggle with the inscrutable cosmos and with my own personal pain. These thoughts give my mind somewhere to go, provide a diversion even as the tears come down my cheeks.

Death feels unfair to me today, as I mourn the passing of an extraordinary human being, as I share the pain of my friends who bid a final farewell to that most precious of gifts, a child.  

Yet, I must accept that death is both given and natural.  And from that point, I must learn to look forward in the largest sense. Look forward to the day of my own passing and how I live each day until then.  Look to the future and know that the one future we all share is that we will leave these human bodies, and that, as the proverb says, "The rain falls on the just and the unjust." 

Even as I am reminded to look forward, I also remember to look backward in gratitude, as my friend and I did yesterday as we looked through her son's childhood and high-school photos. Her son was a beautiful man who lived a beautiful life. This is no cause for mourning, but for gratitude and celebration. His death does not do away with that life, even though it ends it. Death represents an ending, yes, but not a destroying. Even as I mourn his passing, I can affirm his life as it was lived and as it will be remembered.

Which way to look?  Both ways. Look forward with awareness, for "we do not know the hour," and look backward in love and gratitude. May my looking both ways be an action that illuminates each present, passing hour.

Text Copyright, Ysabel de la Rosa, 2011

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