After learning about the death of one of our beloved friends and members of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Gwinnett–Karl Adams, I wrote to a friend: I’m feeling the tenderness of my relationships tonight: my beloved and our three grown children–even our 16 year old Dachshund! Am I becoming one of those old people who stand around and talk about who died most recently? (nota bene: I AM becoming an older person, and in this remark revealed one of the stereotypes I’ve walked around with all my life about what an “old person” is.)
My friend, Gus, wrote back: We are best when we are all that old guy standing around and talking bout who died recently. That we are dying is the thing that makes living have any value, no? (nota bene: Probably why I wrote Gus–I can trust him to see past the stereotype and deliver the wisdom).
We are all living and dying all the time. Sometimes the living and the dying creep along so that we are barely aware of it, and sometimes, as in Karl’s sudden death, living and dying happen so fast that it takes our collective breath away. I found myself looking around at my other relationships as well as at my own self wondering rather half-consciously: am I going to lose someone else? Am I going to go?
Of course, the answer is “yes.” I am going. You are going. It’s the nature of living that we also die. Awe and wonder can come to us in beauty. It can come to us in those events that take our breath away–the unexpected, even the devastating. Beauty allows me to bask for some time in what I have grown to experience as welcome. A sudden, unexpected event (seeing the aftermath of a tornado or hurricane comes to mind) allows me no time and and creates deep disturbance within me. What they both have in common is that they leave a memory, and through very different pathways include the reminder that I am a part of something much larger than my own life.
I am in awe and wonder at Karl’s passing: that I just saw him last week at service; that I didn’t see him this week; that generosity of time and spirit seemed boundless; that all of us in our community have seen how that can be in a person; that in his absence now, we are invited to carry on the service he showed us all the time.
Grief and loss are real. While they appear to diminish us, they actually have the ability to expand us. I am writing this today because I am one of those older people who must talk about who he has recently lost. And Gus is right: our living and dying are inextricable. They give each other meaning.