What does Death say? Be kind

I turned 50 thirty days ago.  Ever since, Death has been stalking me.

People I admired have died.  A number of friends’ fathers have died.  And three people who played a role in each of my three past chapters–Texas, Boston, New Orleans–have died.  Two quite suddenly:  One went to bed this past Sunday night, but didn’t wake up Monday morning.  He had turned 30 just a few days before.  Another woke up the second Sunday after his 52nd birthday, but was dead before his fiancee returned with the morning coffee.

And then the terror.  24 hours of terrorism.  Beirut. Baghdad. Paris. So many innocents who started their days with hopes and plans and ended them dead.

It’s enough to get a fella’s attention, as my Gran used to say. So, I decided to go to the source (that would be Death) and ask what was going on.  What was the meaning? The message? The point?

Because I tend to talk more than listen when I first ask a question, I offered Death my own ideas.

Should I honor these individuals and the chapters they occupied?

“Yes, of course,” said Death, “but no, that’s not it.”

Should I write about how you, Death, have boundary issues and are in our lives from the moment we’re born; how we should all include you in each day’s list of possibilities?

“You talk too much,” said Death.

Is this a wake-up call for me to get back on track with my lists, my projects, my goals…my book?

“Good god, man, NO!” said Death, “You are the king of lists which, really, is such a waste of time because it means you think life can be organized.”

I gave up.

Went for a walk. Took a nap.  Meditated. Looked at pictures of the people who had died. Checked Facebook.

It was somewhere during my 575th visit to Facebook that Death answered me. Via Kurt Vonnegut (I’m cool with that: One’s a helluva writer, the other a not-too-shabby riter).

There, about 35 status updates down, was this quote from Vonnegut’s 1965 novel, “God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater:

There’s only one rule that I know of, babies — God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.

And there you have it.

Deaths affects us so many ways: It ends our lives, it breaks our hearts, it makes us take stock of our lives, but, more than anything, at least where I sit, Death reminds us to be kind.

To be kind to this planet on which we walk, run, dance, sleep and make love.

Not just a kindness that demands change or protests a lack of action, but one that treads lightly and tenderly. One that never ceases to be in awe of a moonrise or to learn from Earth’s wildness.

To be kind to those with whom we share our lives.

That includes those we love…and who love us. When’s the last time you took stock of the abundance of love that others send you each and every day? Want something for your “to-do” list this weekend?  Maybe pick 5 or 7 or 20 of them and say, “Thank you.”

It also includes those we can’t stand: the ex who betrayed you, the colleague who stole your praise, the homeless person who smells, even Donald Trump.  You know how you feel when you direct your anger, your disdain, your superiority, your avoidance to these folks?  Now…try directing some kindness their way. Not pious, Sunday church sermon kindness or limousine liberal condescending kindess, but pure and simple kindness. The kind that doesn’t ask questions or hold grudges, but understands, deeply, that we’re all in this together. How does that feel?

Mostly, though, as I have spent this afternoon sitting with Death’s and Vonnegut’s words, I think their collective nudge is directed at ourselves.

To be kind…to ourselves.

Think about it. It’s a pretty awesome thing that, however many years ago, some sperm and some egg got together and said, “Hey, you know what the world needs right about now?”

And the answer was…you.

So, how about you, kindly, ask your busy-ness to take it easy for a few days. To slow down. It deserves it.  And you need it.

How about you, kindly, ask your hopes and dreams, your successes and failures to hurry on home to the past and the future where they belong.

So you can be here, as you.  Just you. Right here in the present.

So you can be kind.  To you.

Gentle. To you.

So you can say, “Thank you” and “I got you” and “I love you.”

To you.

Whether you wake up tomorrow. Or not.

This post is dedicated, with gratitude, to the memories…and lives..of Sean, Brandon and Tris.