Sunday, June 15, 2008

Comfort for the still living

I lost a dear friend this week, a one-of-a-kind irreplaceable friend. I could say that about several other close friends, but today, at her memorial service, I saw how many hundreds of other people lost her, too.

In her honor, we shared comfort and bereavement alike. We told stories of her life and of her gifts to us, of her cancer and of her love for her family. And we tried to reassure each other.

"She's here among us."

"Her heart energy is strong."

"She has embarked on a new journey."

"I like to think that there's one more star in the sky."

"Her name on my lips keeps her alive."

"She was a gift."

Today, in a Unitarian-Universalist church filled with Buddhists, atheists, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, New Agers, and yes many Christians, we remembered our friend and loved one. She brought us all together, maybe because she was a seeker and not a finder. Her husband recounted that she had introduced him to Buddhism, but she went to Narragansett Bay to body surf when he took meditation retreats. He called her spiritual but admitted that she denied that label to herself. Nature and family were her sacred practices. One woman who spoke noted that our friend held no dogma but took what she found to be good and kept looking.

How to make sense of death is where religion starts. Even when it seems obviously made up - even when I'm telling myself what I know is a wishful tale - there's nothing to be gained by irresponsible truth-telling. Empiricism can wait for the morning. If seeing auras helps you grieve, I can understand that.

So, I took all the comforting words in the spirit they were given - and gave at least one of them myself. That didn't mean I needed their metaphysics, but many of their metaphors are a comfort.

Because this comfort in the face of ephemeral, inscrutable life is so important, it is useful and good even when the stories themselves never could have happened in the world of short lives and long death that we live in. This importance and the inability we disparate and desperate humans have to resolve the conflicts between the given stories are, together, why we have to put religion beyond law, as the Founders did in the First Amendment.

Tomorrow, we can debate all we want the mythic stories that are commonly believed in all the world's traditions. Today, everyone alive who has lost someone they love needs something to hold onto when that person is gone, even if that something is each other.


Clara the Lady Wolf said...

Beautifully said.

I'm thinking now (and often) of a dear friend I lost in a very similar way in 2006; he was also a UU member and Buddhist-oriented (as am I)and he had fought a valiant battle with cancer. You may want to read my current post entitled "Success And Its Meaning", which speaks of him.

Clara Landau

lovable liberal said...

Link to Lady Wolf's post.