Technically, we are all dying. Sometimes we forget this and dedicate ourselves to living. Sometimes we remember and dedicate ourselves to living.
What this tends to mean is getting the most out of life- celebrating the good times, savoring our families, recognising beauty.
It’s all a positive, upward swing kind of thing.
Self-help books advocate grinning in front of the mirror: ‘I’m a success. I deserve the best in life.’
Buddhists try to climb a little further up the tree to transcend our mind-made constructs of misery, dissolve the limiting sense of self, support others to feel deserving of the best in life.
Who, I wonder, is giving a shout-out for pain?
Christian ideology presents redemption through (Jesus’) suffering but essentially this trades sacrifice for the atonement of sins.
In other words, the experience of discomfort endured has worth only for what it is representing or pointing to.
Today, my father enters a hospice.
Hope, the power of the survival instinct, ‘miracles’, miracles: yes- relinquish these and despair takes root. With only an end there can be no beginnings, joy shrinking in on itself like melting plastic.
Yet it seems to me that there is some value- some profound grace- to be glimpsed in the darkest places of human experience, and those places are at birth and at death.
Suffering provides a visceral link between the processes of creation and dissolution so that when I see my mother holding my father’s hand and looking into his eyes I am directly transported to my pre-labour hours.
These are the real ‘here-and-now’ moments when nothing else exists; no escape, no papering over of unpleasantness with pleasure; the facing of an unavoidable truth in real time; a present-tense abiding made possible by dint of nothing more than primal determination and the inhalation/ exhalation of breath.
Whether this pain is physical or emotional is not at the heart of the matter. (The eventual administering of pain-relieving drugs to both myself and my father merely yielded the first sort to the second).
Only the passing of time- and (the important part) one’s fundamental choice to allow that passing of time- will free one up to re-commence with the ‘living’ of life, or else surrender to its passing.
The synergy of a person with this ‘dead-end’ of human experience- this Hobson’s Choice- has a nobility and depth unparalleled by the blissful state. Not ‘no pain, no gain’ but an elemental bloom within pain.
It is the point where we become our essential strength; where we are stripped to the very business of enacting our consciousness, perhaps to our love for another human being; where we connect unambiguously with what we are doing because there is nothing else we can be doing.
So I am drawn to the conclusion that it is nothing less than a privilege to be allowed, even occasionally, to appreciate truly what it is to be human, and to identify that experience as Divine.