I never thought much about being 60. We had a party in the spring, many of you were there. We celebrated Joan and my 60th birthday. At the time it felt just like another day. But this Fall, when I was looking up one of my childhood friends, my age became important. I was looking for Tom, a friend from 35 years ago. I wanted to offer him gratitude for being such a wonderful childhood friend. I hope you offered gratitude during October, too.
As I looked up Tom’s contact info, a funeral notice appeared, then a funeral home eulogy. He died the month before I tried to contact him. At first I did not believe he had died. I remembered him laughing and pushing me around (he was a lot bigger than me) when we were 15. I remembered how he taught me to play poker and football. I remembered how much he loved thinking and how much he pressured me to think. Slowly I realized he was dead. He was gone. Life was changing.
I sent gracious wishes to his widow and children but his death made me realize something more deeply: Life is impermanent. I am impermanent. In any human life, we try our best to over look this simple fact. We all join the sweet and poignant process of thinking we will live forever. We often act as if we matter … greatly. We actively forget that life is change and no matter how hard we armour up to deny it, life will change us too.
Maybe when we realize this, a moment occurs. A moment when we remember our role on this earth. A brief couple of seconds when we realize that “letting go” is a necessary and deeply healing skill to have. For a moment we can let go of judging others and clenching ideas. We can let go of how we see ourselves. We can even let go of our fears. For me, surrender moves me toward life.
In a religious community, it is not morose to think these things. It is freeing. We do not have to control and prop up the world. We can move through our lives noticing what happens and influencing it as we can. With just a little bit of effort, we can breathe out and let ideas that have outlived their usefulness go. We can forgive ourselves for being so tight. We can forgive others for the hurts they inflicted on us.
But there is one more thing I noticed in Tom’s death: I remembered that I had not thanked him while he was alive. I could have, should have. Busyness is no excuse. The letter to his widow was so easy to write and so good to send. I wondered, if I had “let go” a bit more in my life, would I have had time to contact him, have a few beers, laugh and catch up? Letting go is no navel gazing practice. It reminds us of our values or lack of them. It reminds us of the planet and how we might care for it. It allows us to see suffering. It gives time to consider the causes of suffering. There is a pleasure in letting go. It can happen right now, right this second. We don’t have to wait for a special book or retreat even though they can help.
The tender process of letting go helps us release our own suffering about how things should be and how we will respond. Far from being introspective, letting go invites an engagement with the world we seldom feel.
Can I respectfully ask you to let go this month, to surrender, so you become a bit more real in our community? Let’s treat each other well. Become more honest. Listen more carefully. Act more gracefully. Even pledge more generously.
Because life is impermanent, and we need to get the most out of it. So are we.