Bring On The Birdsong, Please
Art by Cecilia Paredes
I sat outside a hospice facility Sunday afternoon and watched two dead bodies get wheeled out on stretchers in the span of ten minutes. My son sat next to me watching an episode of Spongebob Squarepants (don’t tell the Waldorf school) so as to distract him from the undertaker and the gurney and the plastic-gloved security guard 20 feet away.
It was utterly jarring. At first I was all “ohmygod that’s a dead body right there under that sheet, ohmygod.” Resisted the urge to throw up. And then I realized hospice workers do this all day erry day and we just don’t see it because we make sure we don’t. Death via the back door, engineered out of our lives. So many there to celebrate the first breath and so few there to bless the final one. Hiding those last breaths in austere and soulless end-of-life facilities instead of enveloping them with birdsong and fresh air and sunshine on a wrinkled face.
I’ve spent my adult life studying God and bodies and embodiment philosophy. But none of that theoretical know-how has taught me more than the twin experiences of giving birth and sitting with death.
It’s so easy to waste our lives lost in thought about trivial things that aren’t even real. I’ve been thinking all week about what Ram Dass said about keeping death on your shoulder. How it wakes us up. It’s so true. I feel so quiet and grounded and clear on what matters. Amazing how the chatter of social media just falls away when you are in that space. Perspective with a capital P.
Three things to do if you’re feeling this, too:
1) Follow You're Going To Die and check out their wholehearted regular performances.
2) Read about Zen Hospice Project (also based in SF) and the powerful work of director BJ Miller, whose vision for reclaiming a peaceful, elegant end-of-life experience rings true every time I feel the wind in my hair.
3) Love your people well.