Death in the Spring
His name is Nathan Weir. He's 59 years old, and he's dying.
His home is on the west side of St Paul, where he can be found most afternoons seated in a rocking chair on a small wooden porch wearing a blue corduroy jacket and black knit stocking cap.
He says he expects to do little else between now and his death.
"They say I'll expire sometime in late April or early May," he says. "After that my itinerary gets a bit fuzzy."
He's been reading the Tibetan Book of the Dead of late, which details exactly what that itinerary might involve—in such detail, in fact, that he wonders why more people don't know about the book, or study it.
"These Tibetan Buddhists seem to be quite a bit more advanced in their knowledge of the afterlife than your average Westerner," he says. "Apparently, over the centuries, while we in the West were busy exploring, inventing, and conquering, the folks in the East were devoting almost every waking hour to studying the world of consciousness and the nature of the soul. They didn't get any neat skyscrapers out of the deal, but they appear to have outdone Lewis and Clark in terms of discovery. If they're to be believed, they pretty much have this life thing figured out. It behooves me, I suppose, to take a look at their work."
Weir says he "bulldozed" through all five stages of grief in a little over a week following news of his terminal illness.
"Denial was two days, anger and bargaining were a day and half each, and depression was four days," he says. "I'm in the acceptance stage right now, which means I mostly sit on my porch and watch birds. I feel a little silly saying this, but if you'd have told me years ago that watching a cardinal rest on a tree branch could be as fulfilling an experience as viewing the birth of my first child, I would have abandoned most of my ridiculous career pursuits long ago and simply purchased a bird feeder."
Weir says he feels little discomfort and has been told that hospice pain management is so sophisticated these days he can expect to feel very little at the end as well.
"I'm not too worried about all that stuff," he says. "I'm simply pondering the astonishingly sublime present and ruminating over the rather perplexing world that's waiting for me following my final breath.
"It's strange, when I was a young man I thought we all died and went to a fancy place up above where some grand party took place. My parents were Christians and that's more or less what I was taught.
"Now I'm learning that even the great mystics and contemplative monks in the Christian tradition never bought that story, but apparently didn't want to rock the boat.
"I'm astonished at the consensus out there when it comes to the afterlife. Those who have explored the very deepest reaches of existence, and touched the divine, have come back with amazingly similar tales, no matter what tradition they come from.
"The Kabalistic Jews, Sufi Muslims, Zen Buddhists, the Hindus, the contemplative Christian traditions—this isn't as polarized an area as many would have us believe."
Weir says he expects his death to deliver the same sensation as that of waking from a dream. In the same way a dream can seem so vivid and real, he says, this time on Earth also appears anything but illusory.
"I expect to have that familiar 'Aha moment'," he says, "where I slap my forehead and say, 'Oh, yeah, that's right, this has all been merely a dance of sorts, that we've gone through for some mysterious and divine purpose, but it doesn't carry nearly the grand import we've all tended to assign it.
"I expect to end up with the great revelation millions before me have had, where I learn the staggeringly beautiful truth that there are no divisions between any of us, and that my wife, and some peasant selling rags in Calcutta, as well as the Beverly Hills mailman, are all one in the same.
"I spend my days on the porch these days thinking what an absurdly different world this would be if even a quarter of the population grasped this one, almost universally agreed upon truth. We all waste so much precious time emphasizing divisions. What if we would realize there aren't any? Everything—damn near everything—would have to change that very day, wouldn't it?"
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