When a baby is brought into this world, whether it pokes it little head out or it is lifted out of its mother by way of medical intervention, I feel confident in saying that, in almost every case, this new arrival is cause for celebration.
A newborn baby is so incredible – just think about all those tiny body parts, all wrapped up in the softest skin with a voice so loud and insistent that it overrides reason and commands grown adults to stop what they are doing and try and decipher what the cacophony is all about. Oh, and there is certainly something about the helplessness of babies that tugs at our heartstrings – whether we want them to or not! We try so hard to help these tiny humans and often don’t stop trying until we manage to quieten the little baby and peace returns – if only for a brief time.
I have noticed that most people not only realise and logically accept that birth is a daily occurrence, they go to great lengths to celebrate the anniversary of its occurrence every single year. Reproduction happens in rich and poor countries and involves rich and poor people. It is natural and necessary - for without birth, the human race would have returned to dust many thousands of years ago.
It seems that even the most serious and staid people find themselves getting lost in the pure joy that an innocent babe can and does unleash on those whose life it has just joined – and it does so without even trying. We pull faces and make strange, nonsensical noises at some little person who does not understand us and, truth be told, probably has the attention span of a few minutes at most.
People who know the parents of the new bub even concern themselves with all the baby buzz. What sex is it? What was the time was it born? How much did it weigh? Even the length of the new little human is discussed by all and sundry as if this measurement actually matters in the grand scheme of things. I think that, primarily at least, enquiring after the health of the baby and its mother is reasonable and makes sense. It is certainly quite polite and also easily leads into all those other questions such as I mentioned above if one is so inclined to want all the details.
Oh, the miracle of birth . . . if all has gone well, then life is beginning outside the womb for the child, and the new parents are beginning their new life with a child. We find something to celebrate, smile about, raise a glass to wet the baby’s head and perhaps pass around the odd cigar (although I think this may be politically incorrect these days) but you get the drift. Birth is life and life is worth celebrating.
What I wanted to talk about today is actually the other end of this human life process. I wanted to raise the subject of dying and death. If we are to accept the miracle of birth then we must also be accepting of death. No matter who we may be, what amazing discovery we may have uncovered during our lifetime, for every single one of us, our human body eventually breaks down and is no longer able to sustain life and it stops working.
Now we all know that there are many reasons that people die – from accidents and life’s mishaps through to old age, with some organs deciding they have done enough and just run out of steam. A larger and larger percentage of humans will suffer from diseases which they have unwittingly brought upon themselves – diseases which may have been prevented all together or at least able to be managed with the right advice, diet, balance of exercise and guidance from health professionals who understand the mind-body connection.
What occurs to me over and over again is the inequality and unbalanced ways we feel about these two most natural of occurrences. Both are going to happen – nothing is surer. We live and we die.
How can we feel such joy at the birth of a new small human which can’t think for itself, can’t feed or look after itself yet many of us avert our eyes when these exact same things happen to those who older, have lived more of their lives and find themselves closer to death’s door.
It would not be a stretch to say that most people find it difficult and embarrassing to deal with an older person losing control of their bowel yet wouldn’t give it a second thought when the same thing happened to a baby.
People just don’t want to deal with the thought of a loved one dying. Even the idea of it can bring a physical pain to your chest, a choking to your throat and tears to your eyes. But surely dying is something we all expect to happen at some stage - we all know that it is inevitable and yet the thought of it happening terrifies most of us. It is part of our life process. No one escapes the clutches of the grim reaper when he calls for you.
Since the death of both of my parents almost 10 years ago, I have spent quite some time pondering the thought that “if I can celebrate the birth of a child, then surely death should hold no fear for me”. Once I pass from this life, I believe I will feel no more pain and it will be those family and friends who will feel the loss and pain of my demise. I will no longer be inhabiting the bag of meat and bones that my soul has animated for so many years. I will no longer feel the aches and pains which may have plagued me.
While I believe that I am a spiritual being, I acknowledge that I can only say that from my human perspective so am limited in many ways - ways I can't even imagine. Many things in life are coloured one way or another by past experiences and, even if two people share the same experiences they often both have different reactions and manifest their behaviours in very individualistic ways.
I would like to try and celebrate the death of someone dear to me more along the lines of feeling joyous and excited that they are moving on to the next phase in their journey but I know that I, just like most other people I know, tend to see death from the perspective of missing the person or feeling like they should have had more time. But seriously, more time for what exactly?
I know that the essence or spirit of my parents’ lives on in me and my descendants – not just in physical ways but in their influence on how I think, what I know and yet I still have my own slant on things. My own perspective on life, the universe and everything. My parents and their parents before them and so on, all contribute to the me I am today. Although I did not even meet my grandfather on my mother’s side I am sure that parts of him make up parts of me. It is in this way I believe that, although our human bodies die and return to mother earth, our spirits continue to learn and grow – passing on valuable heirlooms such as wisdom, love and respect down through the years.
The saying that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree is an old adage I like and I have found it to be one of those gems of wisdom which can help you find your feet when you may be feeling lost or alone or scared. You may find that you can relate personally to it and this can give you some courage – what about when you doubt yourself, your abilities to achieve a goal you have set for yourself. Just imagine the amazing courage shown by your grandfather as he went off to war, think of your mother somehow dealing with the incredible pain of childbirth and you may just find a spark of fire in your own belly which will see you lifting yourself higher than you ever thought possible. When your own child doubts themselves and wants to throw their hands up in despair, you are there, right there with them, telling them that you believe in them and helping them find their own fire.
Death is sad for those who are left behind but it should also be a celebration of the life lived by the person who has passed. I think back to my own mum and dad’s wakes and can smile and feel good that on the day we said our official goodbyes, we also laughed and reminisced about all the wonderful gifts that were bestowed upon us while they shared our earthly journey. I miss them but understand that it is time for my grandchildren to be with me now – it is their turn to walk this mortal coil – for a while with me and, no doubt, for a time when I am no longer animating this body. But I do not doubt that they will know I am near in spirit and present in their memories, for I am one of their teachers and feel blessed that I can pass on to them some of the knowledge and wisdom from the great grandmother they never physically met . . . and also back so many generations to those ancestors that I never had the chance to meet either. Oh, but I know they are there – I know that some of the things I know may have germinated in their heads and hearts and I feel it today.