“Everything that has a beginning has an end, Neo.”
A friend of mine that I hadn’t seen for several years died suddenly I found out recently. He was younger than me and in good health. The news was a shock and it brought back memories of him and I suddenly realized how much I missed him, how much he meant to me back when we worked together.
I don’t think death is something we think about until someone close to us has died or is close to dying from an illness. It is not till then that time and mortality and the existential questions of life seem to be of some importance, at least for most people (I presume).
For Stephen Jenkinson however, death has become his life’s work.
“Apprenticed to a master storyteller, he has worked extensively with dying people and their families, is former program director in a major Canadian hospital, former assistant professor in a prominent Canadian medical school, consultant to palliative care and hospice organizations and educator and advocate in the helping professions”
Jenkinson who is the subject of a feature length documentary , ‘Griefwalker’ has written a new book called ‘Die Wise – A Manifesto for Sanity and Soul’. In this book he
“places death at the center of the page and asks us to behold it in all its painful beauty. Die Wise teaches the skills of dying, skills that have to be learned in the course of living deeply and well…Dying well, Jenkinson writes, is a right and responsibility of everyone. It is a moral, political, and spiritual obligation each person owes their ancestors and their heirs. It is not a lifestyle option. It is a birthright and a debt. Die Wise dreams such a dream, and plots such an uprising. How we die, how we care for dying people, and how we carry our dead: this work makes our village life, or breaks it.”
Griefwalker the documentary referred to earlier has been available to view on Netflix’ streaming service for some time now but recently has been removed. However there are a few websites that are showing it still and it is embedded below. I highly recommend it for anyone who is dealing with the death of a loved one or family member or who is grieving the decline of the health of the planet. This film contains the beginnings of wisdom for us as individuals and as a culture in the west who has lost its connection with its ancestral heritage.
“Orphans are not people who have no parents: they are people who don’t know their parents, who cannot go to them. Ours is a culture built upon the ruthless foundation of mass migration, but it is more so now a culture of people unable to say who their people are. In that way we are, relentlessly, orphans. Being an orphan culture does not mean that we have no wisdom. But wisdom is being confused in our time with information. Wisdom is an achievement, hard earned and faithfully paid for; it’s not a possession.
Not knowing where you are from is not the same thing as being from nowhere, but it does mean that there is work of all kinds to be done. It could be that the only way for successful refugees to make a culture from their flight is to first be faithful witnesses to what their ancestry now asks of them, instead of what it might have fated them to be. Our culture, if a culture it can be called, or all those things we have instead of a culture, has come to a time of savage despair, it seems. We surround ourselves with generations of the debris of refugeehood, to fill the hollow of orphanhood. We have become a danger to ourselves, and a menace to all who will come after us and to the world. We abandon our dead to make our way, and we are mostly singular people. We might now be the twilight of our ancestors’ dream.
An orphan wisdom might be the only culture-making thing we can rightly, honorably or faithfully claim. There is immense grief in knowing this well and going towards it anyway. That grief could be our way of working now, our labor. It could be our beauty, too.”
Griefwalker (link to the film below)