Waiting. Isn’t that what we’ve been doing since March? Waiting for Covid to go away. Waiting to rebook flights and take vacations we’ve had to postpone. Waiting for a vaccine. Waiting for a functioning adult to lead us.
Some days it feels like waiting for Godot.
A friend in California whose husband died recently recommended a book: The Five Invitations: Discovering What Death Can Teach Us about Living Fully, by Frank Ostaseski, cofounder of the Zen Hospice Project.
Perfect, I thought, as I kept walking by the book on the table. It will speak to the loss of a beloved, something she and I now share. Finally, with the library due date looming, I picked up the book and opened it. It’s organized into 5 sections, which correspond to the 5 invitations. They urge us to a meaningful life, especially in light of the fact that we will all die someday. Together, they are a kind of carpe diem reminder.
The first invitation is simple: don’t wait.
“Death is not waiting for us at the end of a long road,” Ostaseski writes. “Death is always with us, in the marrow of every passing moment. She is the secret teacher hiding in plain sight. She helps us to discover what matters most.”
Covid has brought us closer to death on a grand scale than we thought possible. Most of us know the number of daily deaths by state and country. Yet death by other causes has been undeterred by the pandemic. Friends have lost parents and children and spouses. Deaths at the hands of police continue. The number of homicides is rising.
I admit, the waiting I’ve been practicing has almost dulled me. I tell myself I just need to be patient. I need to keep busy with projects necessary and invented. I’ve tried to put a positive spin on this waiting thing, when really, Covid is an invitation not to wait.
It’s reminded me what matters most. Family, of course, and friends. Zoom calls with them and small gatherings on my patio. But also the pressing issues of the day—racial justice, immigration reform, equal opportunity. Covid has reminded me to live.
A few days before John Lewis died, he wrote in a beautiful essay, “I urge you to answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe.”
Don’t wait, he was saying—fully aware that Covid has us in a chokehold—to redeem the soul of America. Don’t let death come before you make a difference.
“Walk with the wind, brothers and sisters,” Lewis went on. “Let the spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love be your guide.”
We think we need to be patient and wait. But once again, death proves the wiser teacher. George Floyd’s brutal, unnecessary death is a call not to put off the change that needs to happen. His death invites us to do what matters most.