For the past couple of months, I’ve been struggling with the most basic questions of economic survival. And now, for the past week, I’ve been dealing with the sudden and unexpected death of my mother. Given everything that’s been going on, now seems like a good time to talk about life, death, and everything in between (and beyond).
My mother, Maureen, passed away in her sleep last Wednesday morning. She had been dealing with chronic pain and other health issues, but nothing that seemed to indicate just how soon she would be leaving us.
I don’t know what to say, really. I loved my mother, and I still love her, wherever she may be. I don’t claim to understand what exactly happens in the afterlife, but I believe that she is at peace, and I believe that she may be with my aunts, my grandfather, and other family and friends who passed on before she did.
Wherever she is, I’m sure she was touched by the response that people had to her passing. We held a wake and a funeral on fairly short notice, and yet dozens of people (almost a hundred?) came over the course of two days to pay their respects and express their love and appreciation for her. Family, neighbors, former co-workers, friends of family, all showed up from as nearby as Brookfield and as far away as Arizona. In her more self-effacing moments, my mother seemed to think that she didn’t know very many people, or that people didn’t give much thought to her. But many people came to mourn her passing, and so many of them had heartfelt appreciation and affection to share that went beyond the usual polite expressions of sympathy for the family.
A few of my friends here in Carbondale and elsewhere had started getting to know her through Facebook. Some of my other friends never got to know her at all. To those who never had the opportunity to meet her in person, though, I just wanted to take a moment to say that she had a hand in many of the good traits that my friends and loved ones seem to respect and cherish in me.
As someone said at the wake, she was a voice of conscience for many people in her life. She lived a hard life in many regards, especially at times when her life was touched by crime and poverty and other major life challenges. These challenges took their toll on her, and sometimes that toll was more than she or those around her could handle. But unlike many other people in similar circumstances, she took these hard times as lessons in the importance of social justice. When money was tight as a single mom, she fed her children first, and only ate after we had eaten our fill. When men mistreated her, she taught her sons and daughter to respect women and pay attention to women’s rights and feminist issues. When she herself was struggling away at minimum-wage jobs, she joined in boycotts to protest the use of toxic pesticides on grapes that poisoned workers and the land. As she grew older and her life circumstances grew more stable, she devoted a good portion of her newly discovered free time to writing letters, following news stories, and making donations to various ecological and social justice causes.
Of course, I had many other influences in life that inspired me to become socially and ecologically conscious, including my brother and all of the activists I met in Southern Illinois and beyond. But in honor of her passing, I’d like to give credit where credit is due and say that my mother had a good hand in shaping the man I am today. Hopefully, the next time you see me out in the community supporting some cause or organization, you’ll think of her and send your best to her, wherever she may be.
Now that I’m back in Carbondale, however, my thoughts have been thoughts of life and renewal rather than death.
Life is too short for us to waste our time on the things in life that don’t matter. We should listen to our hearts to discover our true calling in life and pursue that calling with every ounce of passion we have in us.
I’ve believed this for a long time now, but watching someone I love pass away unexpectedly has really driven this message home for me. I’m still feeling too chaotic and confused to really focus this into action today, or put this into words properly tonight, but the feeling is there.
Are you happy with your life? Really, truly happy with the job that you work, the state of your friendships and intimate relationships, your role in the community, the state of the world around you? Or are you just going along with the status quo because it seems easier, safer, stabler than rocking the boat?
In yoga, as in meditation, we often talk about taking the time to be still and listen to our breath. Really, pausing to do this several times throughout the day can tell us volumes about whether or not we’re really happy with our lot in life. Is your breathing naturally deep, slow, relaxed, untroubled by muscular tension in the neck, back, chest, hips? Or do you find your muscles tight, and your breath originating from your chest and throat rather than your abdomen?
Listen to the wisdom of your body. Muscular tension and shallow breathing are your body’s way of saying no when your mind and your voice refuse to. No, I don’t like this job. No, I don’t like this relationship pattern. No, I don’t like responding to problems in my world with apathy or cynicism.
If your body is saying no to these things, then your heart is probably saying no too. And life’s simply too short to say no to the deepest genuine desires of your heart and spirit.
Why live in a persistent state of No when you could be living in a persistent state of Yes? Take the time to consider what you really want in life, and then take the time to do what you can to make it a reality. Even if the road is bumpy and unfamiliar, or doesn’t lead where you originally thought it would, you’ll be on the right path.
I believe that our deepest purpose in life is to find the divine spark within us and to make that spark manifest in the world around us. Somewhere deep inside of you, there is a great love, or a great passion, or a great inspiration, that has the power to transform your life and touch the lives of everyone around you. It may be something simple and humble that others will seldom take notice of, or it may be something grandiose and profound that will change the world as we know it. But whatever it is, your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to find that spark within you and bring your light into the world.
I feel like for a long time now, I’ve been doing a good job of finding that inner light within me. But I haven’t always been able to bring it out into the world around me. It often seems like I need more energy, or more money, or more time, or more people in my life who believe as I do and have the time and energy and money to try something new and bold and exciting. And so, I take what I really want and I put it off until tomorrow, or I hide it away until I find the right people to share it with, or I settle for less than what I want and hope that maybe I’ll do better someday.
But life is too short for this attitude. They say that justice delayed is justice denied — and the same is true of our hopes and dreams. I’m not naive enough to believe that everyone’s wildest dreams can be realized in this lifetime, or even that they ought to be. But I do believe that each of us can find a sense of purpose deep within ourselves, and that we can turn this sense of purpose into meaningful actions and relationships that may be more rewarding and amazing than we would have originally thought possible.
I’m still working out the specifics of what it is that I want to do with this life. But I know that it will involve writing, and I know that it will involve teaching, and I know that it will involve doing what I can to support the community groups of Southern Illinois and beyond. It will also involve sharing my life with many family, friends, and loved ones.
The outpouring of love and support that I received after my mother’s passing reminded me that I’ve already come a long way in making my dreams a reality. Sure, I don’t currently have many of the outward material signs of success that people usually look for. My income is low, my debt is slowly growing, and my current lack of steady cash flow is a major barrier to some of my personal and professional goals. However, I have more friends and loved ones than I can even count! If we were all teleported away somewhere, there would be more than enough of us to fill an entire village. So rather than lamenting what I don’t have, I choose to celebrate what I do have. And I do have an entire community worthy of friends, a rich spiritual life, great love and kinship in the present moment, and great hope and prospects for the future.
Thank you to my family, my friends, and everyone else who was supportive and consoling about my mother’s passing. And thank you to everyone else who has brought joy into my life and helped make life worth living. I hope to live another 50 to 100 years in good health and good spirits, but even if I were to pass on tomorrow, I would feel very blessed with the richness of relationships and experiences I’ve had so far in this lifetime. I thank all of you for your presence in my life, and look forward to spending more time with you on this wild and crazy journey we call life.