The trees here in North Dakota are almost fully transitioned to the reds and oranges of Autumn. There aren’t many forests up here, 40 miles south of the Canadian border, so I have to make a point of visiting them, especially now, as they prepare for winter. As I was visiting today, walking among the trees, leaves swirling around me, I was reminded of how much this season is about death. The central holiday of the season, after all, is a rememberance of those who have passed on, and many believe this time of year to be one in which the curtain between the living and the dead is at its thinnest. Even the activities of the flora and fauna are guided by death, or, for some, the fear of dying. Birds migrate, small animals go into hibernation, and most of the insects die, with no way of knowing if they’ve left behind enough eggs for a new generation to come in springtime.
I was born in October, and I hope I die in Autumn (in 70 or 80 years—I’m hoping the average age is higher by the time I get there). There’s something so peaceful about the thought of leaving this world while the Northern Hemisphere fades into Winter, and, if it’s true that the spiritual realm is most closely overlayed with ours this time of year, perhaps death would only feel like sitting up, getting out of bed, and walking out, forgetting to bring my body with me.
In the teachings of Christianity, we are encouraged to make peace with death, to look forward to it, having faith that it is only a door, and not a return to our pre-birth state. Death is often used as a way to illustrate the powerlessness of humans in contrast to G-d. “You were dust, and to dust, you will return.” In Buddhism, there is even a concept of sitting in meditation, imagining one’s own body decomposing; first festering, then, reduced to a skeleton, held together by tendons, then, only white bones, which become dust. I believe that thinking about death, approaching it with wisdom, and being honest about the fear we have when looking it in the face, can only lead to positive change—in our outlook, in the way we live, and in our peace with living and approaching our inevitable death. To this end, I decided to write 31 meditations on death—one for each day of October—and I will be emailing them out every day. They’ll be sort of the same general tone of what I’ve written above, and will include poetry, verses of Scripture, and wisdom from various traditions. They won’t be posted here, though, so if this is something you’d like to read, enter your information below, and you’ll be on the list. The time of day the email is sent out will vary. If, at any point, it gets to be a bit much to receive a new email every day for a month, just reply, and I’ll take you off the list.
Let’s think about death together.