Facing Death.

May 3, 2020

Facing Death.

May 29, 2023

British philosopher Bertrand Russell wore many hats: mathematician, historian, writer, essayist, social critic, political activist, and Nobel laureate. He wrote this piece of prose at age 81, 16 years before he passed away. I think you’ll find his thoughts on death illuminating. Maybe we ought to talk about death more often.

“The best way to overcome [the fear of death]—so at least it seems to me—is to make your interests gradually wider and more impersonal, until bit by bit the walls of the ego recede, and your life becomes increasingly merged in the universal life. An individual human existence should be like a river: small at first, narrowly contained within its banks, and rushing passionately past rocks and over waterfalls. Gradually the river grows wider, the banks recede, the waters flow more quietly, and in the end, without any visible break, they become merged in the sea, and painlessly lose their individual being. The person who, in old age, can see life in this way, will not suffer from the fear of death, since the things he or she cares for will continue. And if, with the decay of vitality, weariness increases, the thought of rest will not be unwelcome...I should wish to die while still at work, knowing that others will carry on what I can no longer do and content in the thought that what was possible has been done.”


We finish today with a poem from Eavan Boland, a 75-year-old Irish poet who passed away earlier this week.

Quarantine

In the worst hour of the worst season
of the worst year of a whole people
a man set out from the workhouse with his wife.
He was walking—they were both walking—north.

She was sick with famine fever and could not keep up.
He lifted her and put her on his back.
He walked like that west and west and north.
Until at nightfall under freezing stars they arrived.

In the morning they were both found dead.
Of cold. Of hunger. Of the toxins of a whole history.
But her feet were held against his breastbone.
The last heat of his flesh was his last gift to her.

Let no love poem ever come to this threshold.
There is no place here for the inexact
praise of the easy graces and sensuality of the body.
There is only time for this merciless inventory:

Their death together in the winter of 1847.
Also what they suffered. How they lived.
And what there is between a man and woman.
And in which darkness it can best be proved.

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