When love comes first.

As you may have guessed by now, I talk a great game. There's a fluidity to my bravado that  is laughable and I'm learning to love being just "so full of it" on occasion. Here's an example.

In my family we have an elder who is over 85. And whenever she doesn't answer the telephone, one of us will go over and check up on her.

Is she okay? Has she fallen and hit her head? Did she die last night and didn't have time to call and leave a message? Just to be clear, she's actually in great shape for her age and there is no reason to think that she's suddenly cut out just because she's not answering the telephone.

But we always draw straws on who has to go check.

And I'm not volunteering because I don't want to be the one who finds her either suffering or actually dead. Nope, not signing up for that. And after negotiating whose turn it is to go and fretting about it on the way over, just to make things worse, she usually meets me at the door, announcing that she was on the phone with her older sister and asks if I would like something to eat.

So far, so good. She makes a great chocolate cake.

No one else is leaping up to check on her, but I find my own reticence particularly endearing since I have been thinking about the subject of death and dying for many, many years. I'd say I love thinking about the topic, but that wouldn't make sense to anyone except a very small subset of other, slightly odd ducks.

My elderly family member actually thinks I'm a bit daft, or at least soft headed, for being interested in the subject at all. She has absolutely no interest in death or dying and expects to out live the rest of us by a long shot. We don't share a common philosophy on the topic to say the least.

So, I'll accept that not everyone is thinking about this. Actually, most of polite society puts this on a par with discussing the dog's hemorrhoids; we all know they're there, but please, for heaven's sake, do not bring it up.

Last week one of my teachers, Roshi Joan Halifax was in town. She faithfully practices what she preaches and excels in a challenging field.  I admire her focus and enjoy the irreverence she brings to her work. She's been practicing for over 40 years and doesn't profess to having figured it all out, which is refreshing when you think about it.

I first met Joan teaching in the mid 80's at a solstice retreat in Northern California. She has since been designated "Roshi", which by her translation means, "decrepit old teacher." Her tradition is Zen Buddhism and she practices and teaches being with dying. Here's her cyber home base Upaya Zen Center.

Roshi Joan was here at the invitation of  San Diego Hospice, a local organization that cares for the dying and is a recognized pioneer in the field of "palliative medicine."  Hospice care and palliative medicine specializes in helping people crossing the border between resistance and acceptance, when the soul transitions from the battle of living to the surrender of dying.

In the workshop with Roshi Joan, I had a chance to sit with sixty or so like minded souls who agree that dying is worth thinking about. Hospice nurses, therapists, acupuncturists, herbalists, physicians, poets, writers, ministers, priests, pastors, musicians and healers of every stripe and color. A big bunch of gentle, twinkly eyed grandmotherly hearted friends keeping vigil at the crossing between life and death.

Buddhists, Christians, Agnostics, Catholics, Muslims and Jews. Death really is the great equalizer.

Every tradition speaks to this transition from here to there. And one of the big selling points of organized thought in this regard is the inevitability of the event. At some point, you won't be "here" to think about it. (I put here in quote marks since based on the current squishiness of scientific developments, no one is completely sure where here is.)

If faith and empiricism eventually reconcile, can we benefit from preparing to die as a path to reaffirming our commitment to living?

Can we hope that if hospice has their way, there will be lots of grandmotherly hearts at the border waving goodbye? Or maybe hello?

If this life is all just one big circle, could heaven be a place on earth?

Echos of the 80's and a loving tribute to the teachers and healers working on the border patrol. Feel free to dance along and enjoy the miracle of living.

Do you know what that's worth?

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