When I consider all my spirituality has brought me in the last few years, one specific lesson comes to mind: coming to terms with endings. Or rather: letting go of the concept of forever, which is actually quite a surprising turn of events. I am fairly certain my fear of endings, of the ultimate ending called death, drove me in the arms of religion in the first place.
My first brush with finality were the images on the telly of a soccer disaster in a stadium. I was five years old at the time. Even now, as I think back of those coffins with Italian flags on them, tears well in my eyes, so tangible was the unfairness, the sense of finality that emanated from the images. Yet, these were strangers. The images etched themselves in my mind, but I could still pretend death had nothing to do with me. Later, death came to our household. It lurked from behind the ever increasing boxes of medication and the oxygen tanks in the bedroom. My parents chose not to introduce us to this guest, in order to give me and my brother a happy childhood. Maybe they were still hoping he would go away. But I was aware of him all the time, and when he finally left, taking my mother with him, it made me a seeker. I knew we could not conquer death ourselves. My mother had fought him for years. She had her minor victories, but in the end, he won nonetheless. It made sense to find solace in the one religion that followed in the footsteps of One who was said to have conquered death.
I did not only seek permanence in religion, but also in my relationships with other people, which was problematic. As a teenager, you are bound to be disappointed when this is what you look for in a boyfriend. I learnt the hard way that we are always in flux, and new beginnings invariably demand an end to something else.
That was years ago. Gradually, death and I have made our peace. More people and pets in my life made the crossing. We are still not the best of friends and I doubt we ever will be. Letting go of the linear narrative of Christianity and adopting the circular outlook on life, has helped me to respect the necessity of his presence though. These days, I also find it easier to deal with little endings, little deaths if you will. Letting go of a friendship that is only a shell of what it used to be, saying goodbye, seeing a grey hair. It’s all part of the game.
Someone very dear to me talks with ease of her own death. She is in her early sixties and as hale as can be, yet the prospect of not being around forever is not particularly problematic to her. She says this is something that happens to you when you’re older. Maybe I will be as comfortable with my own end, one day. But not yet. There is still so much living to do.