Death is hard to avoid, but maybe even harder to get your head around. In her book, Saying Kaddish, Anita Diamant writes "... contemplating death is so exhausting, I wonder whether human beings have an instinctive aversion to the subject." No doubt it's a subject happily ignored until you lose a friend and gain a void, then facing it is what you do.
I recently read a story about Lawrence Anthony, conservationist and author of The Elephant Whisperer. Anthony's meaningful life ended suddenly, but what happened next is harder to believe: two herds of African elephants that Anthony once saved from the label "pests" (as well as the sentence coinciding with the label) journeyed 12 hours through the South African bush to Anthony's home to mourn alongside his human family and friends.
What beckoned to them?
I made a trek on Sunday to Colorado State University's Argus Institute to pay tribute to a very close friend of mine. It didn't matter that he ran on four legs instead of two. Like the elephants of Thula Thula, I was on the receiving end of unconditional goodness.
During the service, an Argus Institute staff member shared her thoughts on what canines teach us; it's worth repeating and stowing somewhere close by:
- Live in the moment (you can do it). Let go of the past and don't worry so much about the future. The present is here, embrace it.
- Follow your instincts.
- Whatever path you choose, commit to it. Enjoying the trail is no less important than where it's taking you.
- Whenever a loved one walks through the door, drop whatever you're doing and greet them with joy.
Facing death—and the helplessness, loss, and mourning that greet you in the process—lead, both ironically and slowly, to a greater appreciation of life. It also reveals a trail where, with every step, you come to know that neither life or death is the common denominator here. The last word rests with the invisible but equally tangible call of love.