Thoughts on the death of a friend
“I scarcely know where to begin, but love is always a safe place.” Dickinson—that poet the world still considers a bit crazy—said that. Her thought was never careless. Truth was hard won for her, as anything worthwhile is on this earth. So I say, with her, that love is the one safe place.
With love I place kindness, mercy, gentleness, and everything tender in human life. And when in this moment we face death, for of course it will be this moment when it comes, nothing else will matter. That is the truth, simple yet difficult of attainment, that must burn like a coal within. Not the pretty little slogans aiming to inspire us, either—but a real possession in the face of all that may threaten, even that which may call us to give everything. Genuine courage springs only from love, I tell you.
And if you have a religion, or a god, or a teacher, or a belief system, or an ideology, or a creed, that requires you to be unloving and unkind, or justifies cruelty and harm, then know that your religion or teacher or creed is absolutely false. So much is certain.
And if your love consists of a fellow-feeling for people like you, the ones who look like you, live near you, and agree with you, but your heart is closed to the stranger on the other side of the world, then it is nothing but tribal custom, even if you dignify it with the name of religion. Every tribe believes that it is the greatest tribe on earth, and all the other tribes are enemies and inferior—so what? There’s nothing virtuous or intelligent in that.
The angry god of power, the volcano god, is a lie. And everyone secretly knows this. The public voice of the accusing moral god is the voice of fear and limitation, a pathetic human voice. His real names are Power and Money. When in this moment we face death, there will be no Power or Money.
Blake saw it. The angels have switched sides, and their platform now calls for war and executions. A rich man asked Jesus what else he could do and was told to sell what he had and give to the poor. And the man “went away sorrowful.” Yeah, I’ll bet he did.
Okay, Mr. Jesus. That’s enough. Go back up on Jehovah’s throne. Here’s a nice crown for you, and a scepter. That’s good. Now stay there, and we’ll get back to business.
And love means saying No, too. Joel Osteen can grin the whole day through and talk about love, but I’d like to know what he thinks of the war. And torture. And racism. And if he won’t say, then his grin is emptier than the Cheshire cat’s.
No amount of money, or power, or oil, or political advantage, or anything else I hear from the media megaphone, is worth one single life, one innocent life, one Iraqi child, one homeless person who can’t afford food or a doctor, one inmate in a prison—or for that matter, one stray cat. Not all the flags and the uniforms and the guns, all the military and their endless salutes, all the big phrases like freedom and honor and glory, are worth a single life. I know that now, and I am not afraid.
When we die, what will we leave behind? Everything. Regret will bring nothing back. The one thing needed: wake up now and begin. Start from the safe place that crazy poet talked about, and fear will leave you.
All this I learned from you, my dear friend. One simple look taught me everything I needed to know. Shantih.