Well, not really. But then, those Near-Death-Experience people claim with great consistency that things really are better Over There. Come to think of it, so did my spiritual guide, the late Muhammad Subuh (d. 1987). He told his followers that the other life was absolutely superior to this one. So much so that the Almighty felt moved to instill the fear of death into humankind. Otherwise, if word got out, there would be massive suicides. Apparently, we are here in this “Vale of Tears” for a reason, and it’s important for us to stay in the game...
Why am I dealing this week with such a morbid subject? Well, I belong to two men’s groups. Both of them cater to men of a certain age. At just two months shy of 82, I tend toward the older end of the spectrum in them both. The resurgence of Covid no doubt brings the subject into sharper focus, especially for those of us who got our vaccination shots closer to the first of the year. In the church-related group, one of the guys said he’ll likely need heart surgery soon. Another member, in good health himself, is now principal caregiver to his lovely wife who has entered the increasing darkness of Alzheimer’s. In my secular men’s group, our senior member, at 88, had a recent stroke. Although his body and mind are back, he, alone among us, is a widower who lives by himself. The rest of us are blessed by strong, supportive women by our sides. When the subject would turn in the past to mortality, he would always state how he never thought about that subject. A retired Coast Guard commander, he was used to being in charge. Now, suddenly, his age had caught up with him. Another member, a half year older than me, had been hospitalized six months ago with a heart issue and came close to dying. And a third, about to turn 71, has recently been diagnosed with a rare, especially toxic form of Parkinson’s Disease.
Given this context, I feel blessed to have a spiritual Control Tower staffed by top-rate Professionals. Not that I’ll continue flying forever. Of course not! But I think of Don Juan’s advice to Carlos Castaneda: “Take death as your ally.” Hamlet and other intellectuals back in the day would adorn their desks with skulls as memento mori, reminders of death, to help them live life to the fullest. For the time cometh when we will neither reap nor sow. How true is that?! When my turn came to share at the latter men’s group this morning, I chose to recite some of the last lines of Tennyson’s “Ulysses”: “Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’/We are not now that strength which in old days/Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;/One equal temper of heroic hearts,/Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will/To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.” Until the time comes, that is, when yielding is the bravest thing we can do.