I read an article recently in which a new mother talked about 10 things she used to be able to do before she had children. Some of them were practical, like sleeping late, or reading more than 2 pages of a book at a time. Others were more emotionally striking, like reading or hearing any story that involves children dying.
There were things I used to be able to do before I started doing grief counseling also, like saying goodbye to a loved one without thinking about all the stories I’d heard about last goodbyes no one knew would be the last. This isn’t a bad thing, but it is different. Lately the awareness has hit uncomfortably close to home, with a co-worker of more than a decade on hospice care and a long time family friend diagnosed with cancer.
Today I saw a beautiful and stark exhibit of Buddha images. The Pulitzer Foundation building is unique in that every exhibit it houses must relate to the space in some way. An exhibit of Buddha images is a perfect fit. The one that stands out the most in my mind is the Standing Buddha Śākyamuni, which, the curator took great pains to explain, was placed in the center of the main gallery for a reason. A reflecting pool just outside the room casts flickers of light just over the Buddha’s head. The light, always moving, brings to mind samsara, the flow of life. The meditating Buddha stands below, still and unmovable. It seemed like the perfect image to fit the feeling of momentarily dropping beneath the surface of things to touch an awareness of death and loss.
Samsara can be understood as the continuous movement of consciousness, but it can also be understood as the continuous cycle of life and death. Standing by the Buddha Śākyamuni, watching the light move on the ceiling, I had to ask, am I capable of that kind of peace so near an awareness of life and death? No. Not yet.