So we made our move last weekend and all of our stuff is nicely situated in our new home. So far, I haven’t found anything terribly worrisome about the place, but it may take some time for me to get comfortable with my new, much smaller, meditation space. The arrangement of the rest of the house seems much more spacious, however, so I suppose the trade-off is reasonable — a person sitting quietly on the floor by himself doesn’t require much space, after all.
In the meantime, my mind wanders on the subject of my Dad. His cancer battle goes poorly and all “active” treatment has ceased. Hospice is helping to take care of him at home — make him as comfortable as possible — but the days of actually fighting the cancer have passed.
I was up to visit him last Thursday and only got to speak with him a couple of times very briefly. He is difficult to understand when speaking and has very little physical strength, requiring others to turn him about in bed and offer water or soda to him when he asks. To my knowledge he has not eaten in 10 days as of the time of this writing. It is undoubtedly very tiring for his wife (I suppose she’s my step-mother, although I’ll admit I’ve never seen her as such), who is basically stuck in the home taking care of his needs. I can not sufficiently commend her for her herculean efforts.
He told me that day that he didn’t want to die, but that he had lost the will to live. This, I interpreted, was his last act of “control” over his destiny — the choice to say that he has had enough and it may end now. For me, this was probably the hardest thing to hear from a man I had always seen as the commander-in-chief of the family.
He and I haven’t talked much on the matter of what he thinks happens after death, except as much as one would be able to intuit that he believes in some variant of protestant Christianity (although he told me recently that he would probably convert to Catholicism now if it weren’t so “difficult”). Growing up, he and I never spoke about religious matters — the result being I was raised effectively agnostic and only picked up a leaning toward Christianity in my younger years from my friends in high school. Since I made the choice to practice Buddhism, he and I have talked a little more about such things, but even following that he has never once tried to sway me in any particular spiritual direction.
In light of his declining health and impending physical demise, I have had a lot to think about, one might imagine.
In particular, I’ve asked myself what it would be like to have the sort of unshakable faith that can just stare equanimously at one’s own death. I have never seen this — I’ve read about it in books and heard people speak of it, but never have I actually witnessed someone die without some measure of concern about what, if anything, comes next.
The sort of faith I write of is a characteristic of what the Theravada school of Buddhism calls a stream-enterer: One who is bound for final liberation in no more than 7 future births. The Nikayas I’ve read tell of lay people who have attained to this, so I suppose I do take it on faith that it is attainable in time, but further, I can discern from practice that the teachings work when applied diligently.
And in daily life, the fact that the teachings have practical working value is generally my focus. Maybe that is a good thing, because if the teachings didn’t do anything positive in daily life, why would anyone choose to practice them?
So I suppose I’m taking the whole situation as a reason to stay strong in practice and continue to learn everything I can about my chosen path, but I must also remember to apply effort (for the sake of my kids) on those things on which my parents sloughed. My children will not have to be ignorant of my spirituality — I will be open about it with them — and I will make sure that they can see the benefit of earnestly practicing.
And when I meet my end, may I know with certainty that I have lived well.
Respect the value of your health, my friends, for it is fleeting and can leave you without notice. If your parents are still alive, honor them daily. If your loved ones have passed on from this world, venerate their memory.