Leaving Home, Going Home
NOTE – This is about the experience of aging towards death. I am respectful of the fact that people die at all ages. I don’t pretend this has anything to say about the experience of people who die young, or that of their families.
I’ve heard that the baby starts the birth process. In the womb, the baby wants to be born. The last few weeks are uncomfortable for the mother. They seem so for the baby, too…lots of kicking and moving around…both are ready for the big change. The mother, at least, is also afraid.
It’s that way all through life. The child reaches out, steps away from the parent little by little, running back but testing the separation more and more, and then finally leaving home.
The parents are afraid. The child is too, though in adolescence less likely to admit it, partly because of pride and other external reasons, but mostly because the sense of adventure, the knowledge that all things are possible, is stronger than the fear.
Life remains like that for a long time,…love, marriage, children, career…then something changes. Nothing seems quite that exciting or rewarding anymore. There is often a longing for things to be “like they used to be”, but you can’t go back. To one degree or another we try but eventually learn that truth.
So what is left? What we really want to go back to isn’t school, our hometown, the other career, a first love. It’s that sense of adventure, of the world opening up before us like a flower to be enjoyed. Physically, and then mentally, we decline. We don’t enjoy so much.
At some point it dawns on us that the only real adventure left is death. Some call it going home, and that is part of the feeling, but another part…I think the stronger…is the sense of adventure, of shedding the shackles of age that restrict us and striking out whole and confident on a new journey.
We want to go home in order to experience leaving again.
This isn’t about a particular religious belief. I mean an organic, primal sense that doesn’t need an explanation to exist. It’s just there, like hunger or lust. The mind will make of it what it can, but the mind is mysteriously irrelevant.
Maybe we think of the comfort of the Christian, Jewish, or Moslem heaven, or the Hindu promise of reincarnation, or we think of nothing clearly, just experience the mystery of conflicting excitement and terror in the face of death and dying. And we look forward to it, because it’s all there is to look forward to.
I wonder if this isn’t a mirror of how the baby feels before birth. Throughout life we reach toward each next stage, why not the end also?
Perhaps we command our death just as we command our birth.
December 5, 2004