My friend Paul was a man who spent a lot of time in meditation, and it was appropriate that he should come to spend his last minutes of life in the very hour when I was listening to a reflection on the theme of transience. The mindfulness teacher I listened to suggested that it would be a good idea to dedicate the sitting for the benefit of someone who was facing change or death as indeed Paul was, and so I did. Then as I ended the meditation and checked my phone, I saw a message to the effect that, a little while earlier, my friend “had gone to live with the angels”. Paul’s timing was just about perfect.
The death of someone we know and love gives rise to questions which have been asked by people since the dawn of time. “What is life all about?” “How did I come to be here?”, “Where do we come from?” “Do we go somewhere else when this life is over?” and of course for finite beings in a vast cosmos, there is no absolute answer.
But the Buddhist monk and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh, whom Paul and I greatly admire, suggests that something cannot come into existence from nothing. For something like that to happen just does not make any sense. Neither can something that already exists go out of existence, although its form may change. And how is it that, surrounded as we are by death and change, none of us can imagine or believe in our personal non-existence? Thoughts along these lines bring me to a conclusion that, in some incomprehensible manner, we do in fact go on and that there is much more to the reality of our being than meets the eye.
I’m sure that in any future life, many people would not particularly wish to see me again, but I doubt if Paul would be one of them. He was one of the kindest, most reliable, trustworthy people I ever had the good fortune to meet. He was totally devoted to his wife Anne whom he loved with all his heart. We made trips to places of meditation, Plum Village in France, Jampa Ling in Cavan, Oxford in England. Always there was the daily report back to Anne to enquire if she was well. The words “I love you” “I love you” were repeated with sincerity in all those conversations. I recall feeling once that we might never safely complete the journey back to Dublin, Paul driving with a dangerously overanxious enthusiasm so as to arrive back in the arms of his beloved.
He idolised his children. He greatly missed Michael, a son whom he had lost a little while before I met him. His children were all “the greatest” in his eyes. He thought I was great too, but that didn’t give me a swelled head because Paul thought the same about everyone. In his world, the glass was always half full, if not full to overflowing. He had the best doctor, the best hospital, the best advisors, the best friends. It seems that being the best himself; he was rewarded with and attracted the companionship of people who shared his positive attitude to life. They say that has something to do with Karma.
Paul’s good life reminds me that we are all here for only a short time, even those of us who manage to hang in long beyond our sell by date. But the life of each of us is a gift beyond price, inexplicable, incredible. So each of us must try to make the best use of this gift. My friend Paul never preached about doing good, he just he practised it to the end.
And so the time has come to say goodbye. Sleep well my friend; I’m am sure we will meet again. When? Does it matter? As Thich Nhat Hahn would remind us, we have forever, and forever is a long, long time.