The other day when I arrived at work, my boss inquired how I was. Although I’m never sure whether people are asking a real question with that, I decided to treat it as one. I’ve had the flu and two colds over the past month, so I answered honestly, “I feel like Death, but I’m working on a resurrection.” Being a minister, he understood and seemed pleased that at least I had Easter on the brain despite being a Buddhist, which was why he didn’t want to hire me at the church in the first place. (Initially I considered his objection narrow-minded, but over time I’m beginning to understand it.) However, that’s not today’s topic.
My theme today is this: rising from the dead is a skill every adult needs to master sometime in life, just to survive. Erica Jong said, “Surviving means being born over and over again.” And she’s right. A life fully lived will naturally require a series of rebirths — if this isn’t happening, we’re staying too small. And with apologies for stating the obvious, to be reborn you have to die first.
My first demise occurred after leaving my marriage. Although I knew this was the right thing to do, it still hurt. A lot. And I felt dead, or barely alive, for a while. One day I escorted my zombie self to the farmers’ market in Monterey, California, amidst a bustle of people and gorgeous produce and smells of handmade quesadillas, and I ran into a fluffy dog the size of a small bear, with silvery, black-tipped fur. I remember the shock: There are still beautiful things in the world. When I touched his improbably soft coat, everything shifted — I’d been born again.
The next death happened not too long afterward (this was the time of my Saturn Return, and when you live in California, it’s helpful if your meltdowns accord with astrological phenomena — it makes explaining them much easier). I suffered repetitive motion injury in my hands and elbows, bad enough that I couldn’t hold a coffee cup.
Afraid I’d never be able to write again, I considered killing myself. I was determined that if things got to where I had to depend on my family or friends to take care of me, I’d check out early. My roommate and best friend at the time said to me, “I know it seems impossible, but there will come a day when all this will be behind you.” I was dubious, but figured there was no harm in waiting to see if his prediction came true. Killing yourself is something you can always do later. And he was right. It took a while, but everything turned over again.
I haven’t died lately, but I wouldn’t put it past myself; I’m prepared for as many lives as it takes to get through this one with whatever aplomb and grace I can muster. To live large in the sense of experiencing all I can, preferring regrets of commission to those of omission, collaborating with life instead of resisting it, not indulging self-pity, inertia, or fear. At least not for long — inviting them in for coffee is okay; I just don’t let them make themselves at home.
The writer Wallace Stegner said:
Largeness is a lifelong matter…. You grow because you are not content not to. You are like a beaver that chews constantly because if it doesn’t, its teeth grow long and lock. You grow because you are a grower. You’re large because you can’t stand to be small.
So how do we do it? Where’s the Youtube video on how to resurrect yourself in five easy steps?
Suggestions, anyone? Amazing true stories of coming back from the dead? I believe anyone who’s truly risen to the occasions of more than a few decades has pulled a Lazarus at least once — has died to the self they used to know, and lived to tell about it. And the thing is, if you pull it off even once, you forever know it can be done, which changes your experience of every death thereafter.