So I was out running, feeling dumpy, feeling slow, until a rocking song came on: Dave Matthew’s Gravedigger. My whole body sang with shivers. It’s not supposed to be a happy song, oh no. A lot of talk about death. Matthews is a poet-musician who dramatically conveys the feeling that although “we all fall down,” we also live forever. Why else would he ask the gravedigger to dig his grave shallow so he “can feel the rain”?
Every time I listen to this song, I am left with the feeling that, although I will die someday, I will always exist in some other form.
Thich Nhat Hahn, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, teacher, poet, and peace activist who has for decades touched hearts all over the world, teaches about death in a way that gives me peace. In No Death, No Fear, he writes, “There is no birth, there is no death; there is no coming, there is no going; there is no same, there is no different; there is no permanent self, there is no annihilation. We only think there is.”
The energy that is me will become the energy that is something else when I’m done with this body. I’m convinced this is true. Just as the energy that is a flower becomes the energy of rich, fertile soil for the next things to grow. Thinking this fills me with peace about death and makes me content to live with joy and harmony for each moment I remain in this manifestation of myself.
While listening to Gravedigger, I was reminded of the morbid graveyard walks my family and I took this past June in Cape Cod. My kids thought I was weird for squealing excitedly every time we came upon another cemetery. But the history of these long-dead people was so alluring. And, let me tell you, there are some OLD graves in New England. We’re talking Mayflower days. Some are 400 years old.
These cemeteries are beautiful bits of history where you can walk through rows and rows of tombstones, some half-falling over, all etched with scripted epitaphs like this:
“Behold and see as you pass by
As you are now so once was I
As I am now so you must be
Prepare for death and follow me.”
Wife of Donald Nickerson
Died Nov. 29, 1836
Aged 22 yrs., 1 month, 15 d’ys.
An arresting thought about these epitaphs: their lives on earth were so briefly summed up in only a few lines. Lived, died, bam. In the ground.
I was unsettled by this last thought. I heard a clamoring in my head, felt a stirring in my soul. I wasn’t sad for these people who had died, but rather glad they had lived at all. And I knew that I had to live while I still had time.
The end line of the child’s song, Ring around the Rosy, is “…ashes, ashes, we all fall down.” When I was a kid, and crashed down to the grass in pure bliss with my little girlfriends, I admit to not understanding the power of that line.
As an adult, I am aware that all of us die. I will die. That’s a given. But first I’m going to LIVE.
I wonder what my epitaph might say?
Here lies the body of a person of joy
Dedicated mother of two girls and two boys
Wife, love, and partner to her very best friend
Remained with rapture by his side until the sad end
Followed her true dreams, lived from her soul
Loved well her people and let herself be whole
She drank every drop of good living with zest
She nurtured, and fed, and always gave her best
And now dances in the stars, and rains on the earth
Shows up as good energy in a breathtaking rebirth.
What would yours say?