Embracing our mortality enlivens our living

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, May 26, 2004

We concluded last week's column with Catherine Aylesworth's and Steve Pride's lament over the Pepsi generation's failure to contemplate the "last chapter" – their inability to embrace mortality as part of the healthy embrace of life.

Some of our coffee companions agree:

WHEN I READ about "our mortality and the journey of life" at the conclusion of your last column, I thought of one of Stephen Covey's points in his Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: "Start with the end in view." People who at their funeral get a three-minute standing ovation celebrating a life well lived, lived it well because they "kept the end in view."

In our current society real death (versus TV story death) is kept hidden, masked and camouflaged. When my youngest daughter saw the made-up corpse of her grandma, she cried out, "That's not my grandma!"

This was the same daughter who, in a Brazilian Indian village 15 years before, with her little sisters routinely joined their little friends and watched people clean and dress corpses and then helped to bury them. They did this for years, throughout their growing up time. As a consequence, they have a healthy view of death, a clear view of the end.

If every one by the time they were twelve years old had seen some real corpses, without make up, and had some serious talks with elderly people about life and death, it would greatly help our society to "embrace the reality of death as part of the healthy embrace of life."

—Jack Popjes, Sunrise Beach, Alberta

PART OF embracing our mortality is coming to grips with growing older:

WHAT IS IT with this generation that the message being given is to avoid aging at any cost? Why cannot people rejoice in being elderly, as has been done by past generations? Why cannot people rejoice in respecting the elderly?

I am flabbergasted at the number of people having cosmetic surgery done to deny the natural process of aging. Physically, I suppose we are not as attractive, but as a middle-aged woman, I have so much more to offer – every wrinkle tells a story, every pound a pleasure, every gray hair an experience.

I have earned the right to wear my flaws, and I display them proudly as I look at today's youth with amusement, knowing they have yet to walk a road that I have already conquered.

The media focus on beauty, and like sheep the people follow, throwing their money on every conceivable cream, gadget, drug, or surgical procedure.

Life is a jagged road, not run in a straight line, working towards a goal, to go to a better place called Heaven. When you get there, should there not be some wear on your shoes?

I would appreciate hearing more of the service where applauding a life well lived was practiced. Sounds terrific and I can only hope to earn such applause myself, through work, experience, heartache, and laughter, all of which will bring about those nasty little "inadequacies" I wear.

—Bobbie Black, Cochrane area

THE ACCEPTANCE of aging and mortality underlies the fuller experience of life, according to the world's great wisdom traditions.

I grew up with the words of Psalm 90:12 ever before me: "Teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom."

The late Johnny Powderface, respected elder of the Stoney Nakoda First Nation who lived into his 90s, put it this way: "Nîbi ne dohâ ptenâ wanch" – "this life is very short."

The 14th Dalai Lama has chided the West for concealing the reality of death. "This is a mistake," he says. "Meditate on the meaning of old age, meditate on the meaning of death, and also on the meaning of your trials. This will show you the meaning of your life."

Embracing our mortality, then, teaches us to treasure each day. More on this next week.

© 2004 Warren Harbeck

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