“I’m preparing to die. ” I visited with a woman in her eighties who told me she is spending a fair bit of time reading, writing, learning, talking and thinking about death. Even though she isn’t terminally ill she wants to be ready to die. She feels the more she can prepare herself for death and accept it as a natural part of life, the easier it will be for her and her family.
I just finished reading Madeleine L’ Engle’s book The Summer of the Great Grandmother where she describes the last summer of her mother’s life. L’ Engle says we experience a series of ‘letting go’ events or ‘deaths’ that can prepare us for the end of our life.
L’ Engle suggests we die to childhood and are born to adolescence. We die to adolescence and become adults. We die to our single selves when we become someone’s partner or parent. When we move to a new place or a new career we experience a kind of death. She thinks these experiences can teach us things that will make the end of our lives easier.
We spend much of our childhood and adolescence being educated and prepared for our adult lives. Many couples attend counseling sessions or retreats to prepare for marriage. I took prenatal classes and read books to prepare for parenthood. Many people take seminars and visit a financial planner to prepare for retirement . It makes sense that just as we prepare for these other deaths and rebirths during our lifetime we should also prepare for our final death and rebirth.
Teaching Our Children How To Die
Let’s Talk About Our Parents
My Grandmother’s Epitaph
I wouldn’t have thought that exercise could make you more empathetic, but that’s one thing I learned from an excellent sermon in our church last Sunday about the Golden Rule. You know the one, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. ” Matthew 7:12
Our pastor, suggested the Golden Rule is basically asking us to be empathetic.
He turned to psychological research to find steps we could take to become more empathetic.
- Exercise. A good workout where we push ourselves and our bodies makes us physically and mentally tough and more sensitive to what pain feels like. By stepping out of the relative ease of our modern life here in North America during a hard run or strenuous bike ride we connect in a small way with the struggle faced by many people around the world who are less fortunate.
Woman meditating at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem
Meditation. In particular LKM (loving kindness meditation) that involves spending quiet time each day sending loving and compassionate thoughts to ourselves, our family and friends, our enemies, people around the world who are suffering. This kind of meditative practice sparks the neural connections in our brains linked to empathy. Our pastor suggested it sounded an awful lot like praying.
My Dad examining patients in Haiti
Volunteering. Regularly setting aside time for charitable work strengthens the empathetic wiring of your brain as you do your part to help someone who is less fortunate than you.
Dave and his friend Rudy taking time to listen to each other
Slow Down. Being empathetic means we make time to truly listen to others and consider their concerns. If we are rushing around from one commitment to another we may not have space for empathy.
The Golden Rule by Norman Rockwell
Our pastor said every major faith has a commandment something like the Golden Rule. Following it appears to be pretty basic to understanding how we should treat each other no matter what kind of spiritual framework guides our life. I think empathy is the key to a better world.
Thanks to Phil Campbell Enns for a helpful thought-provoking sermon.
Saying Hello to People
Must We Live in Fear?
I visited a Maori meeting house in New Zealand and learned a traditional Maori form of greeting. Two people shake their right hands and at the same time place their left hand on the other person’s shoulder. The head is bent, eyes closed and their foreheads touch as their noses are pressed together twice. The two people are said to share the breath of life with one another.
Although we may not greet people in the traditional Maori style, perhaps the way we speak or act towards others when we meet them can breathe life into their existence. Research shows one effective way for high school teachers to make a difference in the lives of their students is to simply greet them by name whenever they meet them in the school hallways or classrooms. It lets students know someone recognizes them and appreciates their presence in the school community. Could this be exactly the ‘breath of life’ some teenagers need?
I used to take daily early morning walks with my mother. I noticed how she made a point of saying a friendly hello or ‘good morning’ to each person we met. I sometimes wondered if perhaps my mother’s cheerful greeting was the one warm kind word some lonely people received that day.
Maori Meeting House in New Zealand
The Maori exchange the breath of life when they greet others. We too have the opportunity to ‘breathe life’ into someone’s day when we greet them in a warm and friendly way.
A Maori Jesus
When my husband Dave encounters someone on the street asking for money he almost always stops to chat with them and then gives them some cash. This is exactly what the Pope recently recommended we do during Lent. The pontiff urges us to smile and talk to beggars and homeless people and then give them money. He says we are not to worry what the needy person spends the money on. He stresses the importance of making a personal connection with them.
Pamphlets available at various downtown Winnipeg businesses suggest a different strategy. They say we should donate to local charities like Siloam Mission and the Salvation Army and then refer panhandlers to those places.
I often encounter four or five people asking for money on my way to work downtown. Since I’m usually in a hurry I give the first one I encounter coins and then say ‘sorry’ to the others.
My husband’s strategy and the one the Pope suggests are probably more compassionate and in keeping with Christ’s example. Perhaps I should try it during Lent. If I make sure I leave in plenty of time for work I’d have enough minutes to stop and say hello to each person I meet who is asking for money. It certainly wouldn’t hurt me financially to give everyone I meet some change. I could even make sure I have change in my pocket each time I leave the house to facilitate this. I’m going to try and get on the same page as my husband and the pope.
Questions at the Vatican
My Former Church and the Pope
During this past week in 2012 I wrote about the four different golf courses we had been to in Phoenix with Dave’s brother Paul and our sister-in-law Shirley.
The bell outside the school we taught at on the Hopi Indian Reservation in Arizona.
I also wrote about going to visit the Hopi Mission School where we used to be teachers.
During this past week in 2013 I wrote about going out to dinner with my Uncle Herb who was holidaying in Phoenix. I also wrote about a golf reunion with Dave’s Manitoba golfing buddies and their wives at the Arizona home we had rented in Gold Canyon.
During this past week in 2014 I wrote about making Chinese dumplings in Florida at the home of our friends Jeff and Anna.
Dave gets suited up in the dive shop for our manatee swim.
I also wrote about going swimming with manatees in Crystal River on a trip Jeff had arranged for us.
During this past week in 2015 I wrote about a fun night at our favorite Phoenix restaurant with friends. I also wrote about our visit to the Grand Canyon.
During this past week in 2016 I wrote about going swimming in a waterfall pool in Costa Rica. I also wrote about a musical walk we took in a bamboo forest there.
You’ve already read on my blog what we have been up to this past week here in Arizona. I wonder what I will be writing about next year at this time.
“Your post was FANTASTIC! I loved it.” One of my readers responded to my blog Real and Messy and Honest with those words. He told me people get far more enjoyment from reading stories about how things went wrong than they do from reading stories that include lots of details about how great and interesting and enjoyable everything turned out to be. The post Real and Messy and Honest was certainly the most popular thing I have written in a long time, garnering many views and comments.
My cousin Carol said this was my funniest post yet. My cousin Fred took time to write a humorous personal reflection on Facebook about each thing that had gone wrong for us. His funny responses ended with a link to the Monty Python video of the song Always Look on the Bright Side of Life from the movie Life of Brian.
Reader Lori says my post was recognizable and real and she is well aware no one has a perfect life, but she still appreciates writers who highlight the positive. Anita, who started following my blog when we holidayed in Costa Rica says while my blogs always have lots of great facts and pictures this post provided a change she loved. She suggested it is good to try and see the humour in the messy side of life.
Other readers said they appreciated me exposing the underbelly of my life. It proved I was real. Fellow writer Dora said she had loved my honest messy blog post but she also likes the usual cheer in my posts. My highschool friend Sandee reminded me that good things can fit into the mess of life too and my friend Arlene said my positive energy lifts her spirits so I should put a smile back on my face and keep looking at the positive side of life. A former pastor of mine thanked me for sharing and said it can be a good at times to recognize the messiness in our own lives and those of others. Many readers said the post had resonated with them because they have had very similar days to mine. One of my former teaching colleagues said the post made her laugh out loud because it was so familiar.
Fellow writer Suzanne told me not to pay heed to people who criticize me for being too positive. According to Suzanne looking for a silver lining is a gift to be admired not a fault. She loves my positivity and is glad all my posts aren’t written like Real and Messy and Honest. It would offer far too depressing an outlook on life.
One of my faithful readers Ruth said she was glad I wrote about the downside of my day. It made her laugh and realize that she and her husband aren’t alone in having heated discussions sometimes when they travel. She said she truly enjoys all my positive and enlightening posts but this realistic post was a great way to begin the year of 2017.
Heather Plett the life coach who inspired the post by asking her followers to write a real, messy and honest report about a day in their lives told me I had done a good job of completing the assigned task.
The response to this post made me think I do need to try and write my posts in a more humourous fashion and not be afraid to write about conflict or negative things at times. It also made me realize I shouldn’t change the way I write too much because most people who follow my blog do so because they like it’s positive tone and direction.
Writing Real and Messy and Honest certainly got a lot of response from my readers, response that has given me lots to think about.
What Are People Saying?
An Attitude of Gratitude