Living and Dying

ImageIn Ethics, Spinoza said that, “a free man thinks of nothing less than of death, and his wisdom is not a meditation upon death but upon life.” He felt that people should not meditate on death if they are truly free because it is inconsequential. God prevents the loss of anything possessing a real existence. Death has no reality and so people should focus on eternal things. Yes, makes sense! By focusing on the eternal, a still confidence embraces us. We are at rest. We are self-assured. We are at one with the eternal. Yes, this kind of diversion of death makes sense as it pushes away the fear of death. The fear of death mirrors the fear of life. People who are scared to live fully are also fearful of death. For existentialists, however, fearing death is not the emphasis. It is important to focus on death rather than fear it. Death brings us into the present moment and the focus on death helps us appreciate fleeting moments. Death is not a negative concept at all. Quite the contrary. The awareness of death gives significance to living.

When my daughter was born, people said, “Enjoy every moment because they grow up so fast!” As a first time mother, I remembered this advice intensely. Death. My newborn will soon die and become a baby, and then my baby will die and become a toddler, and so on. When I took my daughter home from the hospital, she cried most of the day and much of the night. If she was not sleeping or eating, she was crying hysterically. I was tired, achy, cranky, hungry, and lonely. In this time of my life, it was easy to think about the future when this awful phase would be over. It was easy to just press through it, to survive it in hopes of future better cheerier baby times. I didn’t. I remembered the death of this time and that I would never again have these moments with her again. This time when she was only 6 pounds. This time when she had that beautiful newborn face. This time when she was completely defenseless. This time when nothing fit her because she was so tiny. These precious moments would be gone soon enough. Death would come. So I cherished every moment. When she slept, I stared at her tiny little face and marveled at this beautiful little girl I created. When she nursed, I enjoyed the closeness of her on my body. I smelled the top of her tiny head and enjoyed the scent of her. Every minute, I soaked it in. When she cried, I was thankful that I had a healthy baby with strong lungs. Then, 4 months later, it was all gone. I had a new baby. I had a baby that gained some independence as she spent time in her crib amusing herself. A baby that cooed and smiled at me when I changed her. A baby that was interested in the world around her. My newborn was gone and a new stage began.

“It was too bad you didn’t really get to enjoy her when she was so little,” someone told me after I informed them about my colicky newborn experience. Ah, but I did. I can honestly say that enjoyed every precious moment with my beautiful newborn daughter. I enjoyed those beloved moments of stillness and awe because I knew they would be gone. I knew death would come, and so I lived fully at each moment, treasuring this amazing brand new little lady I created. I took nothing for granted.

As I move on with my life as a mother through each stage with my daughter, I remember death. It is my reminder to live fully in each moment. As my daughter grows from baby to toddler, I cherish each day. I cherish her laughs. I treasure the way she looks at me as if there is no one else on this planet she would rather be with. I treasure her amazement and curiosity of the world around her. I treasure it all. Among the teething, the cries, the lack of personal time, the longing for my husband, the lack of sleep, and the amount of time it takes me to get even the simplest tasks done…among all of that, I cherish these times. Because this is the current experience. This is what will soon be gone and I will never be able to get back. This is it.  I focus on death to fully live.

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