Session No. 2 -- from
Having a terminal illness doesn't
make me special. Life, after
all, is a terminal condition. Each
of us, each individual soul is, as the poet William Butler Yeats says,
“fastened to a dying animal.” We all bear the burdens of the flesh.
And all of us at certain times in our lives, in the face of
failure, loss, illness, and finally, our certain ends, find ourselves
asking: why get up this morning? And,
given what I’m facing, what work is there for me to do in this world
that can possibly make a difference?
Lately I’ve come to feel quite
strongly that answering these questions begins with acceptance.
Not resignation, not passivity, but a profound and thorough
acceptance of our place in the natural order.
Not only must we accept our own deaths as a necessary part of that
order, but we must come to see that it is our very mortality that calls us
to act according to our highest nature.
It is out of our acceptance of all that we are, including and
especially that we are creatures that will one day die, that we are called
to our highest human duties. Death,
in other words, is good for us.
Preparation (distribute pencils and paper or note cards)
1. List some things you have learned to accept about life and about yourself.
2. List some of the things you can't, or haven't yet learned to, or just plain refuse to, accept.
3. Describe your awareness (or lack of awareness) of death at different periods in your life. When did you first become aware of death? How did that awareness change you?
1. Discuss your answers to question No. 1 and No. 2 above.
2. Look again at your two lists (things you accept and things you don't). Do the two lists evoke different feelings in you?
3. What does acceptance feel like? How does acceptance differ from resignation or passivity? 4. Can you give examples from your own life of acceptance, on the one hand, and resignation, on the other?
5. Discuss your answers to question No. 3, above.
6. What makes death so hard to accept?
7. What would it feel like, do you think, to accept your own death thoroughly? Would it make a difference to your life?
8. When times are hard, what gets you up and going in the morning?
Each day that I can get out of bed
in the morning, I am blessed. Each
day that any of us can move our limbs to do the world’s work, we are
blessed. And if limbs wither,
and speech fails, we are still blessed.
So long as this heart beats, I am blessed, for it is our human
work, it is our human duty, finally, to rise each day in the face of loss,
to rise in the face of grief, of debility, of pain, to move as the turtle
moves, her empty nest behind her, her labor come to nothing, up out of the
pit and toward the next season’s doing.