Aug 4, 2006

Loss and Faith

It's been a tough year for friends and family coping with loss. I lost a very dear family member last year, my grandmother earlier this year, and in the last month or so, we've been hit with the news of 4 folks very close to folks who are important to us passing away. It's strange - each of my memories of where I was or what I was doing when I heard each loss that related directly to me is very distinct, but that's quite different from my memories of the same for my friends and family.

I'm sure part of it is just trying to make sure that we're supportive of the ones we love and care about, but I'm shocked at how quickly time goes by. And the ways in which we show our support to those who have lost is also interesting. I've lost friendships because people thought that they were being supportive by being invisible in my life after a major loss. I didn't hold it against them, but there was an unbridgeable chasm formed in that absence. And it was hard to relate to someone who disappeared. How can you trust that person? But then, the flip side is someone who can't seem to be with you without asking how you're doing, as if the only way for them to be supportive must be by enunciating each excruciating thought of empathy or sympathy that they may have, without giving you the chance to find your own voice in grieving. I recall these extremes because finding a happy medium isn't easy, but it's got to be easier than this.

Beyond that, the way that we deal with grief is such a personal thing. I remember in a Jain tradition that people get together in one person's house and just sing. It has such a healing effect, and the feeling that you're not alone in the grieving process really carries on the voices as they join with yours. I guess that similar tradition exists for many peoples, but it seems like sometimes, we're given to be so somber as a result of the loss that we don't give ourselves some space to breath and take in how death is a part of the life cycle that we'll all experience, first peripherally and then more immediately.

I don't know. Even as I wait to complete this short post, we heard about another senseless loss, another life ended too quickly. It's enough to make you wonder what the grand design could possibly be, while fearing for your own loved ones. And the balance between the selfishness of "this is my cherished and special person, what can I do if I lose them?" and the intense feelings of empathy for them is hard to manage. I haven't found the right formula, though I don't know if I really want to. But we avoid death and talking about death because of how fearful we are of mortality.

I guess that's where people of faith (or at least a faith that allows you to believe that there's a higher place/purpose to it all, and maybe even those that believe in reincarnation and that essentially, they are okay because they are good people who led good lives) have one over on those of us that are on some line somewhere, trying to figure out where we fit in, and trying not to think about the endless abyss of nothingness that lies on the other side of your last heartbeat - the oblivion beyond which you can no longer be a sentient being. The time when whatever concept of "you" that remains may no longer be real, because your essence, and what your consciousness brings to that entity of "you" is forever lost. To exist in the memories of others is still, at its essence, not to exist.

And that existential reality is perhaps what prompted the first religions to find some way to make sense of it (why would we be here, and so complex as to ask that question, if there isn't a higher calling?). Anyway, so long story short, maybe that's where the elaborate death ceremonies are so important - because those who live need to believe that this isn't all just a sham, or a fury of sound and glory, signifying nothing. If anything, being able to reason has made us wonder, and try to answer "why" more than any other question. And we, as vain creatures, need to answer that "why" with a viable, and "logical" or at least wasteless reason. We're here to serve a higher purpose than the animals, or anything else that doesn't realize who and what it is.


I'm also curious about whether the discovery of sentient life on other planets would throw the mainstream religions for a whirl... because it disrupts the whole notion of the earth as the center of life and creation. The earth has already been knocked from the center of the universe, and solar system, which was all not taken very well by the leadership of the church at first, but they got over it. The center of life is a whole different concept. And especially when they have other ways of discerning divinity and destiny (if they do). What would the reaction and reception to that be? Well - the U.S. would be years behind everyone else on thinking through the ramifications (or even accepting anything).


Lamont for Connecticut!

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