“For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one.”
Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet.
I first posted this video in the spring a couple of years ago. I’m posting it again in recognition of the upcoming Honouring Loss service this Sunday at the Unitarian Congregation in Mississauga. A visual poem about the inseparable nature of life and death, it speaks to the Unitarian Universalist sense that death is part of the natural cycle, to be grieved over but not denied. Life crumbles into decay and composts into new life, over and over and over again.
I’m thinking about death and dying this week as I plan for our Unitarian Universalist remembrance ritual this Sunday. Like many religions and cultures at this time of year, many UU congregations take a moment of shared community to honour our dead. We bring photos to our common altar, tell a story or two, and light a candle in memory of those we have lost. There are many tears, but we are together, connected and caring for each other. For me it is one of the most meaningful services of the year, allowing people to name their losses in community, to speak of death freely.
So when legendary musician Lou Reed died this past week and his wife, brilliant multi-media artist Laurie Anderson wrote a wonderful tribute to him for their local newspaper East Hampton Star, which is making the internet rounds today, I was particularly struck by her words. Light and love are evident in Anderson’s note as she paints a picture of a good dying – leaving this world “happy and dazzled” by nature. There will always be pain in this world, but it is made bearable by the beauty.
To our neighbors:
What a beautiful fall! Everything shimmering and golden and all that incredible soft light. Water surrounding us.
Lou and I have spent a lot of time here in the past few years, and even though we’re city people this is our spiritual home.
Last week I promised Lou to get him out of the hospital and come home to Springs. And we made it!
Lou was a tai chi master and spent his last days here being happy and dazzled by the beauty and power and softness of nature. He died on Sunday morning looking at the trees and doing the famous 21 form of tai chi with just his musician hands moving through the air.
Lou was a prince and a fighter and I know his songs of the pain and beauty in the world will fill many people with the incredible joy he felt for life. Long live the beauty that comes down and through and onto all of us.
— Laurie Anderson
his loving wife and eternal friend
I like the way this odd little video reminds us of how life and death are intertwined.
Every October many Unitarian Universalist congregations honour their lost loved ones with a Day of the Dead/Samhain/All Soul’s kind of service, it is a tender and beautiful moment of shared sorrow. Yet I find spring, the season of new life, is often the one which reminds me of how close by death always is. Perhaps it is the dead voles the cat leaves on the porch, or the smashed snails on the sidewalk, or simply the pace of change as flowers blossom and then fade away.
On grey, rainy days like today, I take comfort in the thought that life arises out of death. UUs don’t have a common approach to death or the afterlife, being more concerned with life itself, but I personally find solace in accepting that death is a needed part of the cycle of life. It doesn’t make the pain of loss less, but reminds me that death comes to all, that death opens the way to new life.