So, after this lengthy exploration of the subject, I have to ask myself: Am I ready for death?
As I noted previously, it is indeed amazing how having to explain one’s beliefs to another inevitably has a greater influence on the teacher than it does on the student. I noticed early on in my forty-three years of college teaching that what I thought I understood about literature was infinitesimally more trivial than what I had to comprehend in order to convey it to someone else. Not only did I have to explain theory and themes at least as clearly as they were explained to me, but I also had to be able to understand the basis for anything I said and understand it sufficiently well to answer really hard questions from unpredictable students, some of whom were a great deal smarter than I.
So the answer to whether or not this exercise in exploring death has exorcised my fears or allayed my angst about aging is that this writing venture has been a bounty for me. It has allowed me to think deeply about my approaching birth into another reality, one which, by all accounts, is significantly better than this one (certainly it must cost less to maintain subsistence living, given the lack of cars, grocery bills, and clothing). It will also be wonderful to be once more in the presence of my loved ones who have blazed the trail ahead—Mom, Dad, and especially my brother Bill, who enabled me to discover and then to start out on this spiritual path called the Baha’i Faith.
I would hope that he and I can continue where we left off, conversing about what he’s discovered, even as we were doing the day before he passed. I also hope I can finally discover from Chaucer if my theory about the unity of The Canterbury Tales is correct. Even more important to me would be the honor of learning from the Babi poetess, feminist and martyr Tahirih if the work Amrollah Hemmat and I have done by way of bringing to light and translating her poetry has pleased her, even as sensing the proximity of her spirit during our work has immensely pleased us.
But what I have learned more than anything else in my life’s journey and in this rehearsing of bits of it with you is that I can forget about preparing for death. It’s a needless waste of time. There is simply too much to be done here and now regarding what is taking place on Earth during this critical stage of human development, this turning point. The Baha’i community worldwide has a mandate from Baha’u’llah to inform others about the rather important news—that God has spoken again through a new prophet, who has revealed a method for forging a spiritual kingdom, a planetary commonwealth, an environment so refined and so capable of infinite progress that it will gradually become an ever more wondrous place for the spiritual training of souls like me.
This writing work will be quite sufficient to prepare me for whatever awaits me, because whatever awaits me will necessarily be designed for my ultimate benefit, even if it starts off with some painful recollections of things that I should not have done, things I should have done, and things I could have done much better.
Nevertheless, a few weeks ago my dear wife Lucia and I spent the day visiting the homes of people wanting to know more about this remarkable news. Some of them we had met them the day before in the park in a part of town called “suitcase city.” It is populated mostly by Mexicans, Haitians, and African-Americans. Some of the visitors to the park had seen the “tree-of-unity” display made by two lovely and industrious ladies in our Baha’i community.
Children passing by the eight-foot tall display would choose a colorful fall leaf cut from paper, inscribe their name, and place the leaf on one of the tree’s many branches. By day’s end, the tree had hundreds of leaves of various colors, each with especially colorful names: Taisha, James, Manuel, Alysha, Carlos, Daryl, Jutta, Monique, Jamal, and many, many more. We also had cards filled out by adults who wanted to know more about the Baha’i Faith, especially those who had learned that Baha’is believe that God has sent a new messenger, that the day of resurrection has come, that Christ has returned, and that the purpose of this new day is to unite all the peoples of the world in one global community.
As Lucia and I visited, sometimes muddling our way through Spanish and Creole, we found ourselves in the home of a middle aged African-American gentleman and his lovely wife. They listened eagerly to this simple but profound truth—that there is but one God and one religion, that this religion has been revealed in stages throughout human history, and that the theme of God’s religion in this day is the unification of all the people in the world into one human family.
They listened intently as they heard that Christ had indeed returned, even as he had promised, that he had indeed come like a thief in the night, unexpectedly, unnoticed, and with a strange-sounding name. But like Santa Claus, he had left behind presents of all shapes and hues—and the most precious gift of all was a blueprint for world unity, a vision the four of us gathered in that small room shared with love and prayers and thanksgiving.
When I returned home to the farm after those precious moments of sharing, I realized that this was the most important preparation I could undertake by way of setting the stage for my next milestone and my next train ride, as well as the most existentially enjoyable activity I could undertake, even better that working the front loader on my Kubota. I realized that every moment I could spend doing my small part in this vast ongoing collective scheme devised by God’s inviolable plan for human education was an opportunity that would not come again:
Bestir yourselves, that the brief moments that are still yours may not be dissipated and lost. Even as the swiftness of lightning your days shall pass, and your bodies shall be laid to rest beneath a canopy of dust. What can ye then achieve? – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 321.
If I should be destined to live on into that final seventh stage of life Shakespeare so disparages, that time of being truly aged, perhaps oblivious to self, I really won’t mind. If I am truly demented, I will also be oblivious to my piteous state, and that stage, while possibly abhorrent to my loved ones to behold, will all pass swiftly in my mind, like a dream from which I will awake as if it had been the twinkling of an eye.
Should this fate befall me, even those who know me truly and love me unconditionally will sense that lurking somewhere near that ragged coat upon that stick is a soul that is the source of my true self, either resting or else watching and waiting in appreciation, but careless of the body’s winding down to it last turn.
So I am about as prepared for death as I think I am going to get. My will is in order. I have created a hefty “Death File” to show Lucia where everything is. And I am, like Ulysses, in the midst of setting out again full force, if not to venture out past the Pillars of Hercules, then surely to some place else equally forbidding and beauteous, like Milford Sound in the south island of New Zealand where I can look up one more time at the incredible hanging gardens on the side of Mitre Peak, watch the crested penguins, the fur seals, the Bottlenose dolphins at play, and the sun setting over the Tasman sea between the sheer rock sides of cliffs glaciers carved out eons before the Maori first glimpsed God’s handiwork.
Or if not New Zealand, there’s a bright orange Kubota L3130 tractor sitting in the back with its bright orange front loader waiting to do its work. And always Molly the collie is waiting to prance along beside me, sniffing out raccoons, opossum, foxes, and squirrels. And always the kestrel is sitting atop the lightening rod waiting to slice through the morning air to find some delectable breakfast mouse in the field.