Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee. John Donne
Right now I am sitting in a café beside a large church where a bell is sombrely tolling for the dead. The sonorous tone is mournful, but strangely comforting. It’s the recognition that this person’s life has ended, but it has been seen, acknowledged, spent.
I hope it will be celebrated for what it was rather than overly mourned for what it is no longer. Death is our infinite respite in spirit after our adventure since birth – if you believe that sort of thing. I do. I have witnessed the presence of a person and then the absence of that presence upon the moment of death more than once.
The experience was not so much grievous – that would come later, but it was awe inspiring. The absolute proof that what animated the one I loved had departed and left the husk of a familiar body. One day it will be my turn and your turn. I have plans for the next twenty or thirty years – things to do, legacies to lay down but the truth is, as I sip my cappuccino, that I may not have years, maybe mere days or even hours. The thing is, I don’t know and neither do you.
The macabre joke is that life is a terminal illness – no one gets out alive. But in truth it is not an illness at all. It’s a long undulating adventure where over the years and through all our trials and challenges we come ever nearer our essential self.
The bell has begun to toll again. This the fourth time. I wish you could hear it. It is beautiful and awful – full of awe – for me as I pause to contemplate the time I have spent so far. As John Donne suggests, to contemplate the oneness of Mankind and my place in that club called humanity is to know my own mortality.
The tolling bell makes me want to love more freely; people, stray cats, the sea. To forgive more readily – even when I think I have, to forgive again and free the soul who is tethered to mine by our shared humanity – whether stranger or brother. To invite the surge of gratitude to quicken my heart and send shivers through my body when I see the sunset once again, when I feel the bright energy in my step as I walk this world.
To live more freely – freed from fear or doubt that I am “getting it wrong” and embrace inspiration and uncertainty and do it anyway, trusting the order of the Universe that governs us all. To be gentle and kind and understanding when I think someone I love is “messing up”. The gentleness and understanding that knows that we must traverse many dark valleys and “mess-ups” to discover who we truly are, so we can live the life we were set on this Earth to live. Each one of us is blessed with our own destiny and how we get there is our only business.
Before me, along the port is a parade of people, a white haired woman, big red sunglasses, peaked hat, riding a bicycle with her bright green flowered jacket flying like a super heroine cape behind her, a young mother with a cloud of black hair pushing a stroller, a tall, long legged young man in a tee shirt striding along carrying a flute. A smiling tourist couple walking their matching canary yellow bikes wearing matching aerodynamic blue helmets. A man walking his dog, or rather from the tautness of the leash out front, the dog is walking the man. Clusters of others, dressed in black are making for the church.
The tolling bell asks me to accept that death will come to me and to every one of us. There it goes again. It’s really lovely, those tones ringing and the full resonance that fills the space between. Once I accept this, I need neither contemplate death nor fear it. I am at peace with it. It is this peace that opens the moment to the joyful fullness of life in all its tones of celebration and ritual. And in all that is sweet, commonplace and mundane.
Right now however, I am a living member of Mankind with a purpose – as we all have. I am grateful for this reminder that, as I go forth to fulfill my legacy, I will do it with a renewed commitment to love, forgiveness, gratitude and gentleness of spirit. Then if I don’t get to complete my legacy agenda, I will have at least made this a meaningful moment.