Tuesday, 21 August 2012

There Are Those Who Set the World On Fire

There are those who set fire to the world.
We are in danger.
There is no time not to go slowly,
There is no time not to love.
~~ Dina Metzger

Perhaps the woman sitting in seat 13B was still fuming over the driver who had cut her off at an intersection as she drove to the airport that morning. We can imagine that perhaps across the aisle in seat 39D a gentleman was still wrapped up in the harsh words he had with his son as he had gone out the door on his way to school. There would have been as many stories that morning as there were commuters and we can rest assured that many of them were were ruminations of hurt or anger or revenge.

That all changed in an instant as the passengers of United Airline Flight 93 became aware of their impending fate. Thoughts of anger and hate and hurt and revenge melted away and as one their thoughts turned elsewhere as they began calling their families and friends to say goodbye.

"I love you. Tell the children I love them' Look after the kids."

Impending death clears the mind of unnecessary thoughts in a hurry and centers one clearly on what is important: love. In extremity the mind always turns to love which Buddhism teaches us is its ultimate state.

Impermanence should be a wake up call for all of us. Buddha told us to meditate on it, to meditate on our own deaths but few of us will seldom go there. Death is what happens to other people and even then we seem surprised when it comes for them. "What? Joe died? When?!"

We seldom consider our own deaths. We push the thought from our minds. We live as if it is never going to happen. We ignore the obvious and, Buddha taught, it is that deliberate ignorance that causes all our suffering.  It is that deliberate ignorance that keeps us from seeing and living our ultimate nature. It is what keeps us from our natural state of love and kindness.

The harsh truth is that we are all going to die. We don't know when. It could very well be today. We hope it won;t be today but it could be. It could be tonight, or this afternoon, or, perhaps, it could be in the very next minute.

The people on United Airlines Flight 93 knew death was coming for them. They knew they were no going to avoid it. In the great clarity of that moment their hearts turned to love. Their loved ones they left behind have all testified to those hurried cell phone calls and those last words: "I love you."

But, we can imagine that the passenger in seat 28B did not have time to call his subordinate at work and make amends for the harsh words he had spoken the day before. We can imagine that someone on that flight had an argument with their spouse that morning and in their final minutes could not reach them to tell them that they were sorry, or to say goodbye, or to tell them they loved them.

When your time comes what do you want your legacy to be? "Here lies Jane Doe. She was angry a lot," or, "Here lies John Doe. He yelled at his wife often."

Each of us determines our legacy. Each of us determines how the world remembers us or if they will remember us at all and in the end there is only one thing worth being remembered for and that is our natural state. The state of love.

It is all up to us. We can continue to stab ourselves with our anger or we can soothe ourselves and those around us with our love.

Love is a practice. It is medicine we can all perform without a license. I hope I can practice it more and more until it is the defining characteristic of my life. I hope I can practice it until I do not need moments of crisis to make it clear to me.

How about you? Do you want your legacy to be love or do you wish to be known for the way you kept stabbing yourself with your anger towards others?

Its up to you.

(Originally posted to Multiply July 29, 2008)

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