The Living Edge of Dying

Last night we had a woman’s ceremony in the studio for young Kelly, who will be having a mastectomy tomorrow. Friends and family gathered to hold her, cry with her, listen to her, dance with her. It was magical, alive! The evening ended with a potluck supper and the arrival of the men in her life: her husband, her son, her lover. Yes, all together. We rocked the roof until the wee hours when it was time to hug each other tight and send her off with our love and blessings.

This past week I said goodbye to another beloved friend, Nicole, who will be taken off life support tomorrow. It breaks my heart to lose her, as it is her lap I cry in when I am sad. But she has been ill for too long and we have no choice but to let her go.

Meanwhile, though, she and I continue our friendship, laughing amidst our tears and talking about what it means to make such a transition, and what will happen next. Her last words to me were, “Go from ecstasy to ecstasy” and my last words to her were, “See you later, alligator.”

But 2 days later I received a note from her saying she could still manage email, so would I please write her some more gossip?

Until the very end, there is time for more life!

What is happening here, in my own life, is true everywhere. We are a microcosm of what is taking place globally - in our communities, our society, our planet. The old forms we have taken for granted are crumbling to pieces and the new forms are in transition, not yet born. It is not clear what we can count on.

The current insanity, it appears, is not only the evidence but also the goad that should get us moving onto that flooding stream of change that is picking up momentum now. Hopefully, we will do it together.

I am grateful we no longer have the excuse to live in ignorance, and grateful we are all alive in the world at this very moment in time to take it on – and so grateful the brilliant young ones are here to carry on the charge, no matter how crazy the interference of the old guard!

Our society as we know it, with its assumptions of privilege and separation and inequality, is dying. We have to face the truth of that. We must assist, not resist, the process of dismantling the injustices as we create the new forms of our world, and the new consciousness to go with them.

I know that this change is possible because I’ve experienced it firsthand with my gay friends during the early years of the AIDS crisis. I saw them – us, really - go from horrific shock to coordinated response and change as we stood by one deathbed after another. We saw our best and our brightest, still in their primes, take their leaves as the community had no choice but to grow quickly into wisdom. Many survivors became wise elders when they were still in their 40s!

I was there as we strengthened the bonds of love, sharing the burdens and coming to terms with the reality of what was happening, getting better and better at doing whatever needed to be done. We learned the hard way about loss and grieving, and that it provided compost for extraordinary creativity – remember the AIDS quilt? Coming to terms with Death itself, we bonded in community and learned how to live.

I attended the deaths of too many friends, but I saw us, their people, gathered in mutual support again and again as one of ours left us with no fear, only joy. It was as if the sacrifice of their lives was meant to point the way for the rest of us, showing us how to die without fear, how to find our beloved community, how to understand the way the world really worked.

So much courage, so much grace!

They lived their dying and taught all of us who witnessed that we did not have to be limited to what we thought we already knew. Boundaries could stretch into new possibilities, new territories of mind and heart, wider visions of what life in the world could be about.

Under great duress, they created new culture.

Under great duress, we also shall create new culture.

As Alonzo King said to me last night, “What is happening now is a great blessing, if we can see it that way.”

I agree.

This is the time that we, who find ourselves alive right now on planet Earth, are here for.

May we say ‘Amen.’