Saturday, December 18, 2004

How can an obituary capture a life of a friend? Of course it can't. In a few paragraphs a life of over 70 years is sketched in highlights. Each of us has a particular set of memories that only we and the person who has died share. Gail Jones was a fierce fighter for the ability and opportunity of all to carry out the ministry of Christ. She held a vision of all gathered around the table without regard for status in the church or society. And she danced the tango. Of all the stories she and I shared - her dancing most reflects the joy of life that I found in her presence. A well lived life - oh too short for her family and friends. Death is a subject about which a lot has been written. Is there something beyond our time on earth? Or is death the end. Religions and philosophers all have thoughts and beliefs about it. I sort of go with the line of the father in one of Woody Allen's movies - when asked if he worried about "you know, ... after?" the father says -"no, I will be dead!" But if I had to explain where my thinking is at the moment - I would go with "These Dark Materials" by Philip Pullman. (The daemons in his book are an externalized part of the human's spirit embodied in an animal form which changes form until puberty when it becomes fixed in one.)
"When you go out of here, all the particles that make you up will loosen and float apart, just like your daemons did. If you've seen people dying, you know what that looks like. But your daemons aren't just nothing now; they're part of everything. All the atoms that were them, they've gone into the air and the wind and the trees and the earth and all the living things. They'll never vanish. They're just part of everything. And that's exactly what'll happen to you, I swear to you, I promise on my honor. You'll drift apart, it's true, but you'll be out in the open, part of everything alive again." (The Amber Spyglass, page 335)
"The first ghost to leave the world of the dead was Roger. He took a step forward, and turned to look back at Lyra, and laughed in surprise as he found himself turning into the night, the starlight, the air... and then he was gone, leaving behind such a vivid little burst of happiness that Will was reminded of the bubbles in a glass of champagne." (The Amber Spyglass, page 382)
"Even if it means oblivion... I'll welcome it, because it won't be nothing , we'll be alive again in a thousand blades of grass and a million leaves, we'll be falling in the raindrops and blowing in the fresh breeze, we'll be glittering in the dew under the stars and the moon out there in the physical world which is our true home and always was." (The Amber Spyglass, page 336)
"To know that after a spell in the dark we'll come out again to a sweet land like this, to be free of the sky like the birds, well, that's the greatest promise anyone could wish for." (The Amber Spyglass, page 532)
And my favorite poem is When Death Comes by Mary Oliver

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps his purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle pox;

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering;
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth
tending as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it's over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was a bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it's over, I don't want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened
or full of argument.

I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.

Gail definitely did not just visit - she leapt into life like the tango dancer she is -- flinging herself out onto the dance floor of life and asking us all to join in and learn the steps as we did not know until we met her.

From a country western song

Life is a dance
With steps you don't know
Join the dance
Learn as you go!