The Last Breath

I thought tonight about Greg Scharf. He was my favourite teacher at the Insight Meditation Society, a Buddhist centre in Massachusetts. I enjoyed many silent retreats there.

Greg was a great storyteller. One night he told us about an old monk who was declining physically. A week or so before he died, he looked out at a circle of sad devotees and said something like this: “You know, in a matter of days or weeks, I’m not going to be here anymore. I’ll be dead!” The venerable one then burst out laughing, bent over with a bellyful of mirth. And the joy kept rolling off him.

I can only imagine how shocked his audience was. I’m still shocked, and Greg’s story was five years ago. How astonishing to see the end as the best joke in the world, rather than the slow plod of a hearse.

Wow.

Will I have the same grace to see the lightness of it all when my finale approaches? In the intervening time, how will I be with inevitable losses? Friends dying, perhaps memory deserting, disease intruding, no longer being able to drive my car, needing someone to shave me.

Seventeen years ago, I ruptured a tendon in my foot and underwent tendon transfer surgery (thank you Dr. Willits!) I was on crutches for 17 weeks, and was just starting a new teaching job in a high school. My office was on the third floor and the principal made sure I had an elevator key. That first day, I looked down the stairs and realized that what was so ordinary was now impossible. The gulp of frailty is still within my mind.

And a smile is on my face. How strange that there’s no fear here, just a leaning forward into whatever’s next. It’s a wonder. Whether the end is one year away or twenty, may the smile not desert me. Why not chuckle at the silliness of it all?

***

For those of you who read my post yesterday, you’ll be pleased to know that my new printer is working fine, fully aligned with my laptop and cell phone. And I had a lovely conversation last night with my friend. Finishing is fun.

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