Looking at Death, Living Life

Cliff and I went to St. Louis for a two-day play date and feasted our eyes and our stomachs. An ad for the St. Louis Art Museum first caught our eyes, an exhibit of The Mourners: Tomb Sculptures from the Court of Burgundy; and second, we learned the Missouri Historical Museum was hosting Vatican Splendors; and third, we wanted to eat some really outrageous Italian food. A successful trip, all in all.

We had, in short, a weekend of life and death.

The Vatican pieces were, of course, splendid. And of course like all political machines, the words accompanying the pieces respun history, glossed over incongruities, and became, instead, peans to glory. We all know the history of the popes and the Church isn’t all glorious, but that doesn’t take away from the work we saw.

Michelangelo, Bernini, Caravaggio, Gentileschi were among those represented. In particular, there was a full-sized copy of Michelangelo’s pieta, one we could get close to.  And it is justly famous for its beauty. I’ve never been to Rome, so I’m grateful for seeing even a copy.

And that evening we had dinner at Charlie Gitto’s on The Hill, an extraordinary Italian restaurant with not a drop of red sauce in sight. We didn’t even have pasta, rather a meal fit for living luxuriously. We managed to close that restaurant down and went on to a neighborhood bar our waiter recommended, decorated with chandeliers from the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. Another history lesson from the bartender along with Irish coffees. We drove back to our hotel laughing all the way.

Tuesday we went back to Forest Park and The Mourners. Expecting full-sized tomb monuments, we were surprised by the 14 inch tall alabaster sculptures, thirty-two of them, a procession from choir boy to bishop to clergy to family and staff, all wrapped in mourning cloaks, from the tomb of John the Fearless (1342-1404), the second duke of Burgundy and his wife Margarite. Exquisite. The tombs are being renovated at a museum in Dijon, France, and the procession has found new life on tour. Sort of like Mick Jagger but not.

So I’ve been thinking about living and dying.

The trees outside my window, here where I sit and write, have lost their sheen and are settling into the early yellowish cast that means summer is coming to an end – we’ve passed the tipping point….”inching toward the end…” as the poet Billy Collins so aptly wrote. Yet even in this downward curve of summer, there’s still a lot of living going on. This morning, along with watering, I picked two more foot-long cucumbers from my garden.

It’s not easy to remember our own dying in the midst of living. Most of the time, we’re so pushed and pulled by the right now demands of our life that we forget we are “inching toward the end” in one way or another. Every breath. Every heartbeat. We forget in our rush to do and so leave undone the things we need to do  – make amends, forgive, laugh, enjoy living.

Take some time these days to enjoy living. Even in this endlessly hot summer. Be conscious of your breath, look out the window. Let the corners of your mouth curve up in a smile as my teacher, Bhante Kamalasiri, used to say so many years ago. This is your gift. Right now.

There are endless things with which to be angry. But we die every day. And death, at least this life in this memory, lasts a long time.

10 thoughts on “Looking at Death, Living Life

  1. So often I feel that death and dying inspire me, push me back into the present. Your beautiful St. Louis journey is a great reminder to live loud and with gusto and to listen eagerly to those around us.



  2. Funny…it’s winter and raining here in New Zealand. Whenever the sun does appear, I rush out to feel it’s warmth on my face! And all around me I see evidence of new life. Spring is not far off! It is the cycle itself,rather than where I am in the cycle at the moment, that I feel I belong to.

    1. It is the cycle – wherever we are. I’m sure those of us here in the northern half long for a season of cool… and yet, we’ll have that too… and you will have summer. What a nice upside down perspective you offer. I’m always glad to hear from you.

  3. we just got a brief deluge of rain, gilbert is eating mama’s slipper all is right with the world. we will never cry we will never die oh my….today today today!!!!

  4. Sounds like you had a very good time. I can relate to St Louis. i remember going to the Hill area and dining at Al Wilson’s tavern. It alsowas known as the bevo Hill (I think) and it was a spledned experience. Glad you enjoyed yourselves, John

  5. I truly enjoy the way you always weave your awareness of the weather as it relates to the position of the corners of your mouth, Janet.
    I have also become aware of how my energy seems to dip and swell with the amazing clouds of this incubator summer. I feel a cleansing breath of ahhhh, that arises from deep inside my belly, as the sun is momentarily dimmed by a cloud that only teases me about rain for my garden. And as the blistering sun burns his way through the wisps of promised showers, I can almost hear my heart sighing as I resign myself to wait till Mother Moon arrives again this evening.
    Then, I will dance in the grass, just a little.

    1. The farmer’s daughter in me can’t help but watch the weather! It’s in my blood. I measure the day by the sky and the sounds – whether birds are singing or sirens. Today it was birds.

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