While driving through town this morning around 10:30 on one of the backstreets in a part of town which could be characterized as marginalized, low income, immigrant, rental row houses. I had cut through the back street to avoid High Street and all the traffic lights – not that town has a great deal of traffic but enough to cause a little delay in my travel to get to the interstate.
As I approached a stop sign, I noticed flashing lights on a couple police cruisers and two city police officers standing in the hot sun in the yard. Immediately I noticed the white sheet laying on the porch over what was apparently the size of an adult human being. I surmised someone had died on that front porch. My reaction was more like “Oh my gosh, that’s a dead body”!!!
No spectators. No media. Just two public servants doing a job. I assumed they were waiting for an ambulance, coroner or detective to arrive on the scene. Was it a drug overdose, I wondered? Heroin plagues our community like many throughout the country, an epidemic we don’t seem to want to control (another blog for another time). Was this an elderly person who died of natural causes? Male or female? Had they been murdered?
I don’t know the answer to the how this person died. In a way, the how doesn’t matter. I continued my drive to the interstate a bit creeped out, a little scared maybe and sad for loved ones of this dead person. I recalled the story of Prince Siddhartha Gautama.
The Prince got to the age of 29 with little, if any, experience with the world outside the walls of his opulent palaces. Born into a life of privilege and luxury, his father shielded him from the realities of sickness, old age and death. Prince Siddhartha, ever curious about what was on the outside of the palace walls, asked a charioteer to take him on a series of rides through the countryside. He was shocked by the sight of an aged man, then a sick man, and then a corpse. The stark realities of old age, disease, and death sickened the Prince.
Siddhartha saw a wandering ascetic. The charioteer told Siddhartha that the ascetic was one who had renounced the world and sought release from the fear of death and suffering.
These encounters with old age, disease and death forever changed Siddhartha Gautama who eventually renounced his life of privilege, became and ascetic and began a journey which change his life forever to become The Buddha, the Enlightened One.
Siddhartha spent years meditating, reflecting, pondering, and engaging in extreme ascetical practices. Finally Siddhartha sat beneath a sacred fig tree (Ficus religiosa), known ever after as the Bodhi Tree (Bodhi means “awakened”) said he was going to figure out what everything meant and he meditated for a significant period of time, some say years. Eventually, Siddhartha awakened, proclaiming to the earth by touching it to bear witness of his awakening. He became known as The Buddha, the Enlightened One.
We all see and experience sickness, old age and death. No matter how much money we have, what kind of house we live in or what car we drive, we will all get sick, grow old and die or we will know someone who will. There is a rather trite saying that “Life is a terminal. No one gets out alive.” What feelings do you have when you hear something like this?
How do you reconcile suffering and death to your religious beliefs, if at all? Do you have spiritual beliefs about death, suffering, sickness? What are your attitudes and feelings about illness – your own illnesses, your family members, or strangers? How do you feel when you see the suffering of others? Are you compassionate toward those who have multiple medical issues who cannot afford care or insurance to get care?
How have you experienced death? What are some of the feelings you have experienced at the bedside of a dying loved one or at news of their sudden death? How has your spirituality grown because of experiencing suffering and death?
Embrace life. Be kind to all.
Blessings, Namaste, and Peace to all,