I was listening to a podcast this week – “grief is a sneaky bitch” – where john a. powell was reflecting on his life, the work, and why we are where we are, disconnected yet yearning for connection, finding a place where even those that transgress us belong.
The interviewer asked him a simple question about making meaning or some life event or maybe it was about the arc of one’s life. I don’t actually remember. But what sticks out for me is his interpretation that we go on, day to day. And the human existence is about stringing things together like delicate beads in a necklace, weaving them like colorful threads in a tapestry, making people, places, things and events have meaning, significance, a cohesive narrative. “Ah yes, I see it all clearly now, as if it were inevitable, meant to be, destiny, a fait accompli.” We grasp, pretend, affirm that this is the story that our lives were meant to tell. And while we’re not without ego, we have hope that this meaning of our lives will carry on in some small way, some gentleness, love traveling forward, where a story or snippet or recollection is tucked away in some family tree.
Sure, when I was six I was convinced that if I went to sleep, when I woke up, everyone would be dead. And then I almost died, bloodshot eyes staring back at me in the mirror, all alone. I almost died, at least knowingly that time (I mean, who knows how many other brushes with death I’ve had, missed by the fraction of an inch on some curvy dark road, crossing the street at rush hour, hitting a patch of turbulence in the air, stepping over a poisonous snake on a remote trail). And now, death is all around me. She died, he died, they are dying, we are all dying, we will all die. I read everything I can about death, grief, practices, beliefs of what happens when we die. It crops into everyday conversation – my curiosity, coolly and casually, asking friends of all faiths and creeds and doubts and dissents, “well, what do you think happens when we die?” they often pause, reflect, share some conviction or some uncertainty, and the conversation then lingers, a pregnant moment, each of us breathing on either end of the line or into the inside of a facemask, figuring out where this conversation, the conclusions we’re each drawing, the human connection we’re having, where this fits in and lands on that grand arc.