As the year 2016 winds down, there is the tendency to look back at these previous 12 months and assess how it all came to be. Almost simultaneously, our attention jumps ahead to the coming year. We are tempted to label our existing year as good or bad and we might wonder whether 2017 will bring happiness or disaster. The year number is an arbitrary line of demarcation, of course, and a self-created symbol of importance. Einstein said the separation between past, present and future is only an illusion, although a convincing one. Nonetheless, let’s examine the rises and the falls, the closings and the openings and look for insights not seen on a cursory glance.
Death, the most solemn of endings, leaves an indelible print on the human psyche. Seeing the body of a loved one who has made their transition from life on the earthly plane can be very sobering. The vessel once so animated now strikes a stark contrast in its last frozen expression and position. Life has taken flight or perhaps just withdrawn back into its natural state of divine union. The body’s silent cry is one of finality, but in reality its message is one of impermanence of everything in this universe. My personal view is that life is life. Life is not something possessed. Life is what we are and life cannot end. We experience the endless attractions of this physical plane, but we “move on” when the ride is over.
It may be that our lack of understanding and thus our under-appreciation of the times when the curtain comes down tend to cast the beginnings in a favorable light. While endings in life are often referred to with negativity or recalled with beautiful sadness, beginnings are tabbed as fresh starts, opportunities and new life or some such sunny outlook. It’s easy to start anew with optimism if fear doesn’t get in the way. There may be just as many reasons to look upon an ending as a happy occasion. I once lost a job I had for 12 years. I immediately called my wife and announced, “I’m free!” The corporate oppression of the situation I was in made termination a joyous occasion. The dissolution of an unhappy relationship of any kind brings at least relief to all concerned. No doubt the end of suffering for the diseased is a welcome result for the afflicted and those who love them too much to see them imprisoned by a riddled body.
There is a more subtle beauty in the ending, however. It’s found in the circle of life perspective, a look at the whole rather than the partial. Lao Tzu wrote, “Amidst the worldly comings and goings, observe how endings become beginnings.” Our inherent interdependence from bacteria to the top of the food chain demonstrates there is a clear and noble transfer of energy as life forms are born, flourish and die. Parasites subsist on higher creatures and the mighty whales survive on tiny plankton. The food ingested by a mammal energizes it and the waste that passes out of the body can fertilize the ground where vegetables and fruit are grown to feed everything from insects to humans. The nutrition of the next generation of food may generate milk for a child and that child may grow up to be a mother also who gives birth to another baby that benefits from the wisdom or practical knowledge of its grandparent that dies on the very same day. Oh yes, the old gives way to the new, but the new could not have existed without the old. There is such glory, such depth of beauty in the workings of nature, of which we are part.
“Our life is an apprenticeship to the truth that around every circle another can be drawn; that there is no end in nature, but every end is a beginning, and under every deep a lower deep opens.” These words of Ralph Waldo Emerson bring home the point that our experience potentially has no bounds. When loss and tragedy take their toll, we can rise from the ashes and create a brand new day with the life lessons thrust upon us.
So, here’s to the passing of another concocted year with all its highs and lows disguised as lows and highs, to all the sad endings that led to blessed beginnings and all the visions that bring our stories into focus.