A month or so back, I went to something called a Night of Grief and Mystery, with a friend’s who’s on this list, where a man called Stephen Jenkinson, told stories about his experience with death and dying, backed by a blues band, with bass that rumbled up into your hips and soul rich melodies that swang.
I was the first to get up to dance, and was a little stunned when he pointed to me and crooked his finger. I did that turning around thing, to see if he meant someone behind me. Oh, you mean me? I ended up slow dancing with him in front of a crowd of 150, in something that felt like a half waltz, because I know how to lead, but I’ve never been so good at following.
He’s a little shorter than me, with a braid of brown hair shot with silver, beard and cowboy boots. He smelled like cloves. He’s twinkly, but there’s iron in him all the way through. A man who’s been tempered. Once upon a time, he ran the largest palliative care counselling unit in Canada and sat with thousands of people who were dying. Realised we’re a culture that’s death phobic. Terrified of dying.
He’s written two books: Die Wise, and Come Of Age: The Case for Elderhood in a Time of Trouble. The night was fun, not quite the deep magic I’ve known in other places, but a magic nonetheless, and left me with an itch to scratch. Wanting to know more, about this man, who could be ornery, who asks hard questions. That in knowing your death, being with your dying bone deep, will change the way you live. And that your dying, the way you die, can be a gift, or a curse for those around you too.
See, and I’m paraphrasing here, think of a river. On that river is a boat, the boat of your life. Everything you did, you didn’t do, that said or didn’t say, every moment ripples out like the wake of boat and impacts everything, visible and invisible, the now and for the generations to come. Your life matters. Every choice, every action, is an inheritance for those around you now and those to come.
That’s not an easy thing to face. There’s grief and regret and changes to be with what really matters. The gift of that is reclaiming your own life.
I was listening to this interview series from The Birdhouse with him and I had to keep stopping to rewind and listen again.
He’s infusing my thinking. About love, about devotion, about the orphaned culture we live in, severance, appropriation and inheritance that’s working its way out in writing I’m working on. More on that to come.