In her beautiful memoir, Married to Bhutan, which I read yesterday in virtually one sitting, Linda Leaming mentions a Buddhist practice in which a person thinks about death five times a day. This made me wonder: Why five? Is that a lot? What kind of day do you have if you wake up and tell yourself, Today I’m going to think about death five times?
I decide to try it.
Thought # 1 (leaving for the gym): What if this is the last time I leave the house? People will say, “She was just on her way to the gym. She never even saw it coming.” (Ha! Little would they know....)
Thought # 2 (in spin class, pedalling as hard as I can): The instructor tells us to pedal harder, and in my mind, I pound the bike and say, “I’m dyin’ here.” Does that count?
Thought # 3 (walking home from the grocery store in the rain, noticing tightly furled buds): I wish I could slow spring down. “A peach blossom is beautiful...because it is temporary,” says the monk at the end of the Bhutanese film Travellers and Magicians. Yes, yes, I know! But if only it could be temporary a little longer.
Thought # 4 (staring at an empty Word document): Death is the blank page on which life writes.
Thought #5 (remembering Rome): It's so weird that my very Catholic mother doesn't believe in an afterlife. We were standing in front of an Inferno-esque fresco when she mentioned, oh so casually, that she did not believe in heaven or hell. I was shocked. Can you be a Catholic and not believe in life after death? Isn’t the afterlife kind of the whole point? Also, if she didn’t believe in an afterlife, why was she dragging me into every church in the city? I asked what she thought awaited us after death. She said, “Nothing. I believe we live on through our genes, in our children.” I said, “Then can we go back to that restaurant near the place we bought the leather sandals?”
Thought # 6 (leaving to do a reading in Hamilton): What if this is the last time I leave the house? OK, when you start to repeat yourself, it’s time to stop. Plus, I’ve done the required five.
Thought #7 (driving past a cemetery. A very big cemetery): “I had not thought death had undone so many.” Enough with the death thoughts already!
Thought #8 (on the way home from the reading): I talk with author Cynthia Holz about Buddhism, end of life care, the end of a life, the moment of death. Rain falls in the streets of the dark city. I am so absorbed in my life at the moment, I forget I am supposed to be thinking about death, even though we have been talking about it the whole way home.