Mortality. Such a tiny word for a concept so large it's almost incomprehensible.
Mortality has been pocketing my attention recently, cropping up all over, startling me in tragic form and surprising me with its naturally cyclical nature. I find myself scandalized when confronted with it, at once thrust awake and dumbstruck. We are all mortal. I - Am – Mortal. But... it can't be. Most days I/We live as if mortality isn't really true. As if I/We have forever.
Without a doubt I worry as much as every other human that I share this planet with, and while I'm probably more present than most, I struggle to allow myself to live with the ease and joy within that is our birthright. I worry, fret, and aspire somewhere in the day, everyday. I am frequently grateful, but seldom am I simply satisfied with where I am in my arc of life. It's as if I have an appetite for aspiration that can't be satiated. My mortality without a doubt scares me.
A meeting in Stellenbosch means a rare treat of a pop in to the SASOL Art Museum. I'm standing in front of an exquisite Stanley Pinker artwork, not his usual explosion of wit, but breath-taking nevertheless. Within seconds I'm also in Larmenier frail care with my late-grandmother, as I recall perhaps one of our final lucid conversations. She points to a man in a corner in wheelchair. "Do you see that man staring at the ceiling? That's Stanley Pinker," she says.
Stanley Pinker is a genius, an artist of the finest calibre. How can he land up spending his last days staring at a ceiling in a wheelchair at Lamernier?
I'm horrified. Stanley Pinker is a genius, an artist of the finest calibre. How can he land up spending his last days staring at a ceiling in a wheelchair at Lamernier? How? Surely he's exempt? Remembering this conversation, mortality nudges me...
It's December and I've just finished a beautiful early evening walk on the promenade. As I reach my car I see an old man coming out of the apartment block aside my parking. I recognize his face but it can't be... he's an old man. As a child he was a giant, a dear friend and colleague of my dad. When did this happen? How? Why? My breath stops for a moment. I, too will get old, I too am mortal.
A flurry of tragic deaths reaches my ears. I attend prayers for a childhood friend's husband who chose to steer his own mortality. A school mom is off to her colleague's memorial service; she had died in a car accident on the way home from her holiday. Two small children and a husband left without her exuberance. A friend's friend loses his toddler to drowning. The 94 Life Esidimeni patients die as if invisible. These are horrific stories of untimely and unfair mortality.
Each story jolts me awake. Our time here is so short and the span unknown. How we choose to live is of great consequence and of no importance. It can be done meaningfully and with kind purpose or sloppily and with greed, and then every shade in between. It all seems so pointless. I've been truly 'freaked' by these encounters with others mortality and wondering about my own.
Then slowly it dawns on me. These nudges are songs, calls from that space beyond what we know, to live only what matters, to allow joy and connection, to embrace one's own and other's vulnerability and where possible, to quietly celebrate each day for its gift of opportunity. As I write I realise there is a gift in standing aside the impermanence of life, for it reveals the integral magic woven in-between our daily routines.
Mediating human continues...