Life is about mortality. I don’t say that to sound pessimistic, but think about it: from the moment we’re born, we are moving toward our own death. It’s the one thing that is undeniable. Everything and everyone dies.
There have only been a few times when I’ve been completely and totally aware of this fact – situations where, for lack of a better way of saying it, I’ve experienced life without the filters of youth, naïveté, or what Buddhists would call ignorance of my own impermanence. The day my Mom died, for example. Seeing her body was perhaps one of the most “real” experiences of my entire life. In that moment, I became keenly aware of my own mortality. It was an instant of pure awareness that very nearly brought me to my knees.
9/11 was another example. For those couple of hours that I kept my eyes glued to the skies over the Capitol while black smoke rose on the horizon from the Pentagon, I experienced life unfiltered. Somehow, in my memory, the sun was brighter that day, perhaps amplified by my own recognition at the time that each moment of life is a gift, something that nearly 3,000 innocent people lost that morning in September.
I was reminded of that unfiltered feeling again this morning as I went to the doctor’s office to have an important test. As I walked through the door, I paused and asked myself aloud, “What if he says there is something wrong?” I felt the same way I did the night I flew home to Atlanta after my Mom’s suicide attempt. What was I going to do if I got off the plane and got the phone call that she had died?
It’s life, unfiltered.
There’s something valuable about those moments. The goal of my entire spiritual practice is for me to reach a point where I live my life completely unfiltered, truly aware of impermanence (my own included) and the preciousness of all life around me – all beings, from friends and strangers to ants and houseflies.
I was afraid of seeing life this way until my Grandma called me to say she had been diagnosed with late-stage lung cancer. It took me a while to come to terms with her illness, but once I did, I was able to share something very special with her in her last months alive.
It was life, unfiltered, and it was a beautiful thing.