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Spirituality

Life’s Big Milestones: Birth and Death

John Hatcher | Mar 3, 2016

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

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John Hatcher | Mar 3, 2016

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

Universal existences can be likened and compared to particular ones, for both are subject to one natural order, one universal law, and one divine arrangement. For instance, you will find the smallest atoms to be similar in their general structure to the greatest entities in the universe… – Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, newly revised version, pp. 209-210.

Probably most people would consider our first major milestone to be getting born, but before we discuss that first achievement, we have to acknowledge all the important stuff that happens before we get to that point in our life’s journey. After all, getting started at point zero is a pretty amazing event, too. Love, passion, biology and divine emanation converge, collaborate, and associate in an instant, or shortly thereafter. What an amazing conception (no pun intended), to fuse all these components together to form this metaphysical essence that is a human being!

A plant from a tiny mustard seed or a mighty oak from an acorn are impressive enough, but to engender a being that has the capacity for abstract thought and sufficient free will to focus that thought on solving problems or creating art or devising machines or discovering physical and metaphysical laws—that’s certainly even more astounding! Birth and death, life’s two boundary events, have a lot in common.

In fact, frequently in the Baha’i writings we find useful analogies between human gestation in the womb and our formative development during our physical existence.

The most obvious point in such a comparison is that the entire purpose of focus of each period of development is preparation for transition or birth into a more expansive, more complete, and more complex form of existence, that what is perceived to be a death is, in fact, but a glorious birth. Equally important in this analogy is the fact that all activity and development within the microcosmic universe at each stage of our development is erroneously perceived to be suited exclusively to that phase of development rather than as preparation for the future.

Perspective or point of view in the progression of our lives and development is obviously extremely important in all this. In fact, Baha’u’llah, the prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith, wrote that true knowledge is the ability to discern the end in the beginning, to understand the end result of present action. In other words, if we could understand the value of doing algebra, we might be more enthusiastic about learning our multiplication tables. Likewise, if we knew that our birth would begin a new and infinitely more exciting life for us, we would not fear the future.

Clearly we are in a similar position with regard to our perspective about death. If we were assured that there is life after death and that it is a continuation of and fulfillment of all we have worked to achieve in this life, then we would be totally fearless about the prospective of that milestone or point of transition. We would understand and concur with Baha’i scripture when it states, “I have made death a messenger of joy to thee. Wherefore dost thou grieve?”Baha’u’llah, The Hidden Words, p. 11.

Another benefit we would derive from viewing our lives in terms of being able to discern the end in the beginning would be that we better understand what tools we need to develop in this life to prepare us for navigating in that future reality. Were we able to accomplish this changed perspective, we would probably likewise alter our view about what we consider “milestones” in our progress through the years of our life. As it is, we seem to establish for ourselves materially and socially oriented goals that stand before us as the doorway to some important point of completion, that point in our lives where we will have established the foundation on which will rest our future happiness and contentment.

And yet because these are not based on the reality of our lives, the true turningLifes-Big-Milestones-Birth-and-Death-2 point in our development, the sense of achievement and completion is short-lived and ultimately unsatisfying in and of itself. Consequently, we are existentially incomplete because we soon tire of our present accomplishments, and yet the next major milestone leads only to another milestone.

That’s the whole nature of milestones—at least I have found it so in my own life. Sometimes the points of transition we long for the most end up having relatively little impact. So you end up waiting for the next milestone to bring fulfillment until, before you know it, you’re sixty-eight, retired, and scurrying around to invent new milestones (other than death) because your vocation and society itself have none left for you.

I remember thinking at the various milestones on route to attaining my PhD in literature that I probably would never make it to that final destination. There were just too many hoops to jump through, too many chances to fail, besides which I wasn’t really confident that I was worthy of such lofty status. But I did sincerely believe that if I ever did accomplish that seemingly insurmountable achievement, my ascent would be complete. I could relax, enjoy teaching, have a family, and be fulfilled. I might smoke a pipe, lean against the mantle piece, and say very wise things to my children as they sat in a semi-circle in rapt wonder at their “professor” father.

I remember the afternoon I received my degree and was “hooded.” I was twenty-seven. I had now taught at universities for four years. I was married, had two children, and a job waiting for me in Florida. Was I not in bliss? Had I not fulfilled all I had striven to accomplish and become? I strolled by myself around the apartment complex where we lived. I had this feeling as if I had come up for air after having held my breath for three years, years in which every moment was accounted for, was devoted to one thing and one thing only. And I began to weep.

I wasn’t sure why I was weeping, whether from relief or release or something more subtle. I suspect it was a combination of complex emotions. This was a moment for which, in retrospect, I had worked to attain since I began the first grade. And now at grade twenty-one or twenty-two, I was done. And yet I was the same person. I had not emerged into another reality. I was not elated or fulfilled. I was totally exhausted and now had absolutely nothing to look forward to. I had not had time to think of any further milestones. This was it. My life was… fulfilled, or was it simply finished?
Next: Creating Your Inner Life’s Spiritual Aspirations

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