It is in times like these we stop to contemplate the great matter of life and death. Everything that is born also dies. As we say in my tradition right there in birth is death. When life is created, that life's eventual end is also created, when a relationship with another person is begun, its end is also created. All of us hope that between the beginning and the end there will a full life to fulfill the promise of the potentials that arise with each new thing.
The old masters of Buddhism sometimes ask the Koan (puzzle) what was your face before your parents were born? In the eastern cultures “face” does not mean just your eyes nose and mouth, it means the essence of who you are, including concepts of honor, bravery, honesty, attitude, and all the sorts of traits that go into making up what we think of as a person. Inherent in this question is the idea that who you are is beginning to be shaped before your parents are born. In our time and place we even say we want to know about our ancestry to get to know how we came to be who and where we are. It is not a great leap to move from “what was your face before your parents were born?” to what of your life carries on after our life here on earth comes to an end? A more modern way of saying this is that people live on in the legacy they leave. Those forces that started to shape our world and ourselves that began before our parents were born continue on after our grandchildren create our great grandchildren. The things that really matter about our lives, what we do in this world, have seeds that exist before our birth and flowers that bloom long after our death.
When I was reading the nice words Maj wrote about her mother Marian loving and tending flowers, it took me back to memories of my mother and her love of flowers and how she passed on that love to me, patiently teaching me about the smell of the clover, and the brown pollen one can get all over themselves from tiger lilies. We worked in the garden growing flowers and vegetables that never seemed to be allowed to grow to their full potential before children's hands picked them. Part of Saturday morning before I sat down to write this I spent teaching my Grandchildren about violets and tulips and dandelions. I am sure when my mother shared with me her love of flowers and nature, she was not thinking about the fact that years after her death, that love would be passed on to yet another generation, and that part of her that was this love would live on to brighten the lives of descendants she would not live to know. To this day I cannot see a clover without recalling my mother laying on the grass looking for another of the four leaf clovers she used to find so frequently in the lawn, and that eluded me in many hours of childhood searching of that same patch of lawn. Perhaps not all of my mother is to be found in a patch of clover, but you will never convince me that part of her is is not there as surely as part of her looks back at me in my grandchild's eyes.
I read once in some place or another.(like Marian I am a voracious reader) that there is in each of us an atom that was once in ever other human being that ever lived. This idea stuck in my head as I was at the time learning to see that not as much as I thought separated me from every other person. It sort of helped me to be more generous in my thoughts when I realized that part of what had been me was in every person I met, and would meet. Maybe at a time like this, it would help to begin to look for the atom of what was Marian in each person we meet.
The reality of my Mother was not all flowers and love however, and sometimes some parts of her legacy were not as pleasant for me to deal with. There was the part that was easily hurt, and quick to remember each slight. The part that would often recall for any who would listen each thing anyone else had ever done wrong. This is a part of my mother's legacy I do not wish to pass, and bless her heart, my mother would not wish to have passed on. Part of my life's work is to work with this legacy and heal the broken parts, and spread the parts that are whole and healing. I sort of feel I am healing my mother as I heal myself.
It occurs to me that in this way my mother is still growing and changing as each of us who were touched by her life grow and change. I am quite sure the same is true of Marian as well.
As I grow older and I begin to understand the answer to what my face was before my parents were born I find the more important question becomes “What will be your face after your great grandchildren die?”
Just like we have no control over the circumstances of our Grandparent's birth we really have no control over what happens after we leave this life. What we can control is what we do in this life. All of us are planting seeds whether we know it or not. Seeds that will flower sometimes long after we are gone. The truth is all we can do is plant the best we can, and hope that seeds grow on fertile ground.