Discussions of death can be uncomfortable, and for some, anxiety-inducing. Death is a very real and dominating fact of life, which even I, from the ripe old age of 23, have come to understand. Having just graduated from college and feeling like the whole world is before me, death holds an intangible position as something that happens to other people but not me. Not yet at least, and hopefully not for many years. But, as the saying goes, death waits for no one, and I have a feeling that I am no exception.
The main focus of my studies in anthropology was on looking at the materialistic nature of humans. Not the ‘shop until you drop’ materialism, but humanity’s existence is intertwined with the physical world. We take the basic ingredients of our surroundings and mould them into the things that protect us, comfort us, and give our lives purpose and meaning. While the products of humanity, from stone-tools to computers, make fascinating studies, I focused on the spaces we create, whether abstract or physical.
Handprint at Grotte Chauvet
Space inherently contextualizes our interactions with the people around us and, ultimately, ourselves. By this, I mean the space we occupy informs how we speak, move, and think. It’s the difference between Sunday morning church and the hallowed Vikings-Packers game. The ways we participate in these events are completely different from one another. The forums for these events, whether in a pew or packed into a stadium, inform whether we chant and cheer or reflect on our lives and contributions to the world.
Outer-space, personal space, mental space, all refer to locations of being we place ourselves within.
My personal favourite is the living room. While the name ‘living room’ doesn’t immediately equate with these other spaces, it illustrates the idea that we designate certain spaces for living. At first, it may seem like a superficial example, but when we consider life’s partner, death, and the spaces designated to it, there are clear lines where each is located.
I was recently invited to attend a Convening and was surprised to find myself comfortable in the space that was created. The Convenings offer the perfect recipe for a space that relaxes the mind, facilitating its flexibility to help us think in new and previously uncomfortable ways. Their aim is to create a space that demystifies death and soothes the anxieties associated with the logistics of dying by simply opening the conversation.
Ultimately, the Convenings seek to blur our culturally and spatially rigid boundaries that attempt to separate life and death by recognizing death’s presence in life. This is not at all a simple matter, but it is a crucial step towards self-assurance and inner-peace, towards the action of living.
The Convenings offer us space and comfort to consider the acts of living and dying with grace and meaning. An acknowledgement that, in this space of living, the conversation of death is inherently a conversation of life, begging the question set forth by Dr Bruce Kramer, “what will you be from here to eternity?”
At my ripe old age of 23, I consider this question daily. It asks me, “what will I create? What will I leave behind?” Some days it feels like a futile exercise, that my efforts of living will be without consequence.
But then, I can’t help but think of the famous hand-print in the cave system known as Grotte Chauvet in modern-day France. The print was made by blowing ground minerals onto the back of the artist’s hand. To our limited experience of time, this hand reaches through eternity, and when I look at it I don’t ask, “how did they die?” but rather, “how did they live?” Most days, I know it’s what I make with the time in my proverbial living room that truly matters because we all leave a mark, our mark, upon the world.