Memento Mori, Tomb of Francesco Mantica
Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome
Photograph by the author
The title quote, taken from Mme. de Salzmann's famous letter following the death of Mme. Ouspensky, seems uniquely appropriate to me on Halloween.
The holiday has become a frivolous one, occasion for great merriment and innumerable jokes about death. In truth, we fear death. Yet it is the greatest mystery: a crossing of the line, a journey from this life back into our Being within the nature of the divine.
Every human being conceives of their own death as unique; and yet the opposite is true. Death is one of the few things every human being has entirely in common with all other people. Our births and our deaths are common to us; the impressions we take in during the course of a lifetime are the things that are unique.
The strange thing is that we think we own our impressions, whereas, as I explained in recent posts on the solar influence, we are merely agents of Being that take them in on behalf of the Lord. Everything we are, everything we can be, we ultimately surrender to the Lord. And we make this surrender not only in death; we make it in life as well, if we are fulfilling our responsibility.
As most readers know, my sister died two years ago. The anniversary of her death was on October 21. So this time of year contains, for me, questions that transcend the trivialities of popular culture, no matter how much fun they may be. October is a month of the deepest contemplation. I look back on what my responsibilities were to my sister, who was four years younger than me, and whom I had an objective responsibility to properly care for.
I find myself wanting. In fact, in the face of mortality, I think I am wanting in regard to all my responsibilities.
We cling to what we have; and yet, in the face of death, who would not try to discover a new generosity in the soul? We can't take any of these things we collect—this money we pile up— into the grave with us. We ought to open our hearts, our doors, and share with those around us as best we can. Not foolishly; we do, after all, have to exercise measurable prudence and intelligence in regard to our lives. But if we do not act from a spirit of generosity towards others, both emotional and material generosity, why bother living? Think of how hard it is to cling to everything — we think of Dickens' Scrooge as a Christmas character, but actually he is a Halloween character, a horror story in life who cannot see what a cramped, awful creature he is become—until he faces his own death and sees what death itself means.
The last paragraph of Mme.'s letter says:
In moments like this, in front of death, and being free from the known, we can enter the unknown, the complete stillness in which there is no deterioration. Perhaps such moments are the only time in which we can find out what life is and what love is. And without that love, we will never find the truth.
This question of generosity in the face of our mortality is a critical one. We must discover a new way to be generous. I am relatively poor at that; or, let us say, desperately uneven. Only when I see my service to the higher, and the temporary nature of my Being on this planet, and deepen my practice, am I properly called to participate in the humility and generosity that ought to naturally emanate from Being.
None of these contemplations, dear reader, are meant to take away from the fun of Halloween, which is, as much as anything, a pagan and even bacchanalian festival of the harvest — which is another moment of death, although it is the death of crops, rather than people.
But it's worth taking a moment, in the midst of the celebrations, to remember the sobering and sacred tasks we have been given in this life, and to honor and value those around us with love. This is, after all, the time set aside to remember all the saints — and, hopefully, to take examples from them.
Quite often, when I run into people and they ask me how I am, I tell them,
"I'm not dead yet. I'm still working on it."
May your soul be filled with light.
Note to readers: a new post at The Microbial Octave.