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The Ceremonies of Life

There are two major family milestones I never miss attending: Baptisms and Funerals. The former because they mark arrivals; and the latter, departures.

Of late, however, our Zoom reunions have been mostly departures. In two consecutive weeks, two relatives passed and moved on. The meetings gave me pause. I’m also in the “pre-departure lounge” stage of my life.

“Better put on your best attire for another Zoom tomorrow,” my wife Delia says. I brace myself.

Although the technology (Zoom) has changed, the ceremonies have not, pandemic or no pandemic.

This worldwide crisis, however, made me realize how many of my priorities have changed. For one, I hardly noticed it has been some time ever since I bought myself a new set of clothes or any of the usual material appurtenances. And the wonder is it doesn’t bother me at all. On the contrary, I feel relieved.

Unbeknownst to me, I tapped on one little secret of happiness: Simplicity -- and the formula to attain it: Lessen your demands. None of the habit of compulsive buying anymore. A question before acquiring anything: “Do I really need all that?”

I have also realized how precise were the words of William Wordsworth:

The world is too much with us; late and soon,

Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers . . .

We earned money one day only to spend it the next day. The material world had controlled our lives. We had been cut off from nature, from our loved ones. In fact, I had been too busy I haven’t written back a niece who had been importuning me to share with her some writing advice. What shall I tell her?

Meanwhile, this worldwide cleansing has not only made me recognize that I had been one among the mass of men leading “lives of quiet desperation,” as Henry David Thoreau put it in Walden, but also taught me to cultivate the more essential things like faith, family, and health -- the simple things.

Why simplicity? Because simplicity makes life less complicated. And by that I mean not only outer simplicity but moral, ethical simplicity -- the whole shebang. Take the beauty of truthfulness, for example. The habit of lying, we all have learned, is a cause of many complications that disturb our peace of mind. An ordinary person considers lying as a way to get out of undesirable situations. But in avoiding one problem, we create more serious problems. One lie needs another lie to support it that in the end will be exposed anyway. This effort to keep up falsehoods causes a lot of stress. Keep it simple, man: don’t lie.

I have also realized that in this time of pandemic, nature has provided us with all the little things to continue surviving in a beautiful world. The ocean, the forests, and natural parks are here for us to enjoy and relax. The living air and sunshine have always been here to nourish our bodies. Animals have always been around waiting to comfort us. These natural features while they still exist, considering the rampant abuses we inflict on the environment on a daily basis, are all around us but we do not notice them. Our lives have been cut off from the rhythms of the natural world.

“Just living is not enough,” wrote Hans Christian Andersen. “One must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower. These are not luxuries but necessities.

But like I said, the two Zoom reunions have been quite depressing. But what matter. I have come to accept that whatever we do to distract ourselves -- by bread and circuses -- to set ourselves apart from the natural cycle, the process goes on. “All Things Must Pass,” sang George Harrison fifty years ago. Even the monuments of the past, built at the cost of many lives to honor the arrogance of past tyrants, will turn to dust and be blown by the desert wind. The illusion of permanence in a world that is ever changing becomes more obvious as we grow older.

Again, what matter. Everything that lives, dies. Departures are concealed in arrivals. There is no conspiracy against us. It is just the way things are. I suspect that God invented goodbyes so that we can have more hellos.

And to my young niece who asked for writing advice: Just write simply, hija. Good writing is simple writing. You write simply and you write best when you are most yourself -- in love, as the Irish poet Yeats says, and in love with things that vanish.

The lengthening shadows of the afterglow now flood the flooring of the pre departure lounge. I am done with all the check-in requirements. I am with my fellow passengers, lovely souls all, waiting for final boarding announcement.

“By the way, what’s the agenda for the next Zoom conference?”

“A christening. We’re welcoming a new arrival to the Community of Faith.”

The ceremonies of life.


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