Monday, November 06, 2017

Birth and Death

This past winter a video popped up on social media of Baha'i actor Justin Baldoni giving a talk that left me sobbing. It was called "What if Birth and Death are Actually the Same?"

The Baha'i views on life after death have been familiar to me for as long as I can remember, and truth be told, Baldoni wasn't saying anything I didn't already know. 'Abdu'l-Baha spoke extensively about the concept of death being like when we are born into this world. In the world of the womb we spend our time developing everything we need to live in this world such as arms, legs, eyes, ears, etc. We don't know what they're for or have any idea how important they'll be. When our birth happens it is a great shock for us since we cannot imagine a world beyond what we have known. But what we find is a world far bigger, brighter and more wondrous than we could have ever comprehended. When the Baha'i Writings talk about death, they talk about it in the exact same way that they talk about birth. Instead of growing physical attributes we grow the spiritual ones we will need to live in the world of the spirit.

What brought me to tears was the story Baldoni told at the end of his talk about his daughter's birth, and his realization that it would not be the last time he welcomed her into a new world. My father and I had talked many times about the similarity between birth and death. Hearing the vivid description of a father's perspective, and his eager anticipation for the day when he could be there as she entered the spiritual world, brought to mind what my own father's perspective must have been.

At the time I was feeling a double dose of grief. I had had to say goodbye to my father and was also trying to come to terms with not being able to have children. For us it wasn't just that birth and death were similar, it was also the illnesses associated with them that overlapped. During the years that he was going through cancer treatment I was being treated for infertility. We would commiserate about needles and doctors and side effects. The endless appointments, how both problems just take over your life, and the uncertainty of where it was all going. There was always a cautious hope that he would get a treatment that would keep him in this world a while longer and I would get one that would bring a new life to meet him.

By the time that video came out both of those hopes were gone. My father had been dead for nearly a year, and after five years of trying to have children, my husband and I were too drained to try anymore. When I heard that story being told I had to realize that I could only ever be on one side of it. My father could welcome me into this world when I was born, and he would welcome me into the next world when I die, but I would never be able to welcome a child after me. Reflecting on the Baha'i teachings at that time was bitter sweet, as it brought both an anticipation for the world to come and a more vivid awareness of what was missing in this life.

All of this came back several months later when, to our tremendous shock, it turned out a baby was living in the world of my womb without any medical assistance whatsoever. As time went by I started to think again about the similarity between birth and death. This baby was totally unaware of what exists in this world, yet was only an inch away from it. He or she was growing lungs with no knowledge of air, a mouth with no understanding of food, eyes with no concept of light. And we in this world and eagerly watching as it grows, anticipating its arrival.

I watched the video again today and spent some time re-reading some of the Writings on the subject. Preparing for a birth makes me think again and again about death. After the past few years I don't think I'll ever again be able to separate the two in my mind. If this is how close this child is to this world, think just how close we are to the next.

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