Life is a Terminal Illness

In Japan, a death toll approaching 10,000; tens of thousands of fatal US car crashes every year; more than 100 million babies born in the world every year

BY DAVID RICKEY — A snippet of one of Dylan Thomas‘s great poems has been popping into my mind a fair amount recently:

The force that through the green fuse drives the flower
drives my green age; that blasts the roots of trees 
is my destroyer.

To me it’s about the “life force” that will also eventually bring about my end. In some spiritualities, like Hinduism, there is a “god” for both creation and destruction (Brahma and Shiva). I prefer to think of it as one force.

Christianity speaks of incarnation and hints at “dis-incarnation.” In my view life and death are just that, becoming flesh and leaving the flesh. Buddhism speaks of death as “dropping the body.” Another great sage, “Emmanuel,” says “Death is like taking off a too-tight shoe.

I think of all that as I watch the buds appear on branches (“the force that through the green fuse drives the flower”) and also as I have watched several close friends die recently and contemplate my own demise (not soon expected, but sooner than I used to think).

A wild rollercoaster ride

The life force takes a body and then, after a time, lets it go. We have begun Lent, where it is said “Dust thou art, and to dust thou shalt return.” But I don’t see myself (or you) quite that way. Rather I see that life has incarnated in this body for a time, and what a wonderful time, full of amazing experiences and challenges. But clearly, it is for a time. Eventually the physical “in-flesh-ment” which is this incarnation wears out and falls away.

Teilhard de Chardin said: “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience.”

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That shift of emphasis makes all the difference. The spirit is the fundamental aspect. This physical body and the experiences we have with it are not unlike a carnival ride, perhaps a roller-coaster, but still a ride that comes to an end and we get off. The only difference is that at a carnival, you expect the end to come (if it’s too wild a roller-coaster you welcome it). But with this life we somehow forget, or never quite realize, that it is bound to end.

Comfortable in my own (temporary) skin

The same force that becomes the flower also causes the roots to burst, or the petals to fall. That’s the way it is. I am only an experiment of this amazing life force, incarnating in this particular body at this particular time.

I am trying to play within this period, create something that has both meaning for me and a positive impact on other incarnations playing out their “human experience.” Above all, I want to experience being human as deeply and truly as I can, which means being fully alive and working with each level of experience as it comes.

In one of my favorite Peanuts cartoons Lucy says, “Why does life have to have ups and downs? Why can’t it be just one up after another?” That’s not the way life goes, and I wouldn’t want it if it did! It’s Lent. Spring is here. Here’s to another upswing of the cycle.

David Rickey is an Episcopal priest, Soul’s Code co-founder and counselor in San Francisco who does a weekly ministry at a residence for the elderly in northern California. Follow David on Twitter.

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