Mortality

Nothing May Really Be Something

The Ancient Chinese Concept of Wu

I continue to be mesmerized by the ancient Chinese notion of Wu, which, in the Dao De Ching (Tao Te Ching), is referred to as “nothingness, emptiness, non-existence.”

In Verse 11, Lao Tsu gives us examples of how “emptiness” has an importance:

  • The hole at the center of a wheel hub “allows the wheel to spin”
  • The space within a clay cup “allows the cup to hold water”
  • A doorway enables us to walk through to another room

So, my friends, the Dao is telling us that a doorway and the hollowed-out space of a cup may appear, at first glance, to have no value. But we all know that a cup is made to “contain” liquid, that a doorway makes it possible for someone to pass through it. Continue reading

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“The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock”

“I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,” says T S Eliot’s Prufrock.

He goes on to say that he sees the “Eternal Footman” holding his coat, snickering, suggesting that even the personified death figure would find Prufrock an amusing irrelevancy.

Later on, he admits that he is “no Prince Hamlet,” but merely “an attendant lord….Deferential, glad to be of use.”

What are we to make of Prufrock’s draw? Why do English teachers seem to love this poem? Why are we attracted to a guy whose life is without drama or vitality? A guy who seems to huddle next to the inconsequential; to revel in a world of what-might-have-beens; or to languish in a life that has never been completely or satisfactorily consummated. Continue reading

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Good News

I recently was told that I don’t have to return for another colonoscopy for ten years.

Sounds like good news, right?

Well, my friends, human nature, being what it is, we can always find some chip in a dining room table, some flaw in otherwise perfect facial skin.

My immediate thought was simply, “Jesus, I’ve got ten years to sweat this thing out. Anything can happen in those ten years. I could get cancer. Then what? I’ll have to get chemo. All my hair is going to fall out. I’ll have to make out a living will. How will I be able to shit? What kinds of foods am I going to be forced to eat? Who’s going to take care of me?” Continue reading

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Or Not To Be

I have been designed for death,
Cordially aligned to destiny,
Tempering my heated wanderings,
These lungs still full of fresh air,
The treads of my pumping heart
Firm against your warm back.

One lane still open
To a slumbering apple,
An unweeded garden,
A tired August rose
An ample sun
Dipping its spotted arms
Into the sleeves of the
Cool, patient night.

 

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Getting Ready: It’s All In The Preparation

Growing Up in the 1950s: Be Vigilant, “Watch Your Step”

I was a teenager when I first saw and heard the adage, Semper Paratus (“Always Prepared”), the official Coast Guard motto. My two brothers joined the Guard back in the 1950s, and the motto became a kind of meme of the 50s culture.

Of course, those were the times of the Red scare and the Cold War. It was a time when school kids were trained to duck under the chairs during a nuclear air raid drill, and Catholics prayed every day to “save Russia.”

I was taught early in life that I had to be vigilant. I had to “watch my step.” I had to avoid temptation or, as the Catholics of my generation used to say, “the near occasion of sin” (Over time, I desperately searched out those near occasions as an antidote to my increasing repression).

And I was always told to “look both ways” before crossing a street. Continue reading

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Thy Kingdom Come

Mystery and the Legacy of Christianity

I continue to be grateful for my Christian heritage. If I can thank that heritage for nothing else, it has deepened my affection for mystery and my need for the transcendent. Granted, I still may be experiencing the collateral damage of that heritage by holding on to a need for the inexplicable and the otherworldly. Perhaps I was conditioned all to well.

And yet, I truly believe that mystery and the transcendent can be experienced without the access to a panoply of myths and rituals that feed into what can’t be explained as natural phenomena. Continue reading

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Impermanence

If Life is Impermanent, Why Bother? Seize the Day

The reality of impermanence has always seemed a no-brainer to me. People and animals come into existence; they live out their lives; and then they die. Or, in the words of the bumper-sticker, “Life’s a bitch, and then you die”

More importantly, my own experiences with memorial services, funerals, hospice, suicides, emergency rooms, psych wards, and drug and alcohol rehabs have helped me to understand the fragility of life.

On the other hand, I was recently confronted with someone’s concern that, in being aware of life’s impermanence, there may be a hidden agenda to “glorify” it as a license for moral relativism, an excuse to bow out of commitments and responsibilities. After all, if nothing in this world is permanent, why bother to be loyal, to love, to be grounded in anything?

The ancient carpe diem (“seize-the-day”) philosophy was certainly based on the notion that, since the world and its pleasures are finite, we should wring from life every moment of pleasure we can get. Continue reading

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