The circle of life is not a beautiful gift from the universe. It doesn’t illuminate some secret about the meaning of existence or justify the pain of loss. The circle of life is a poetic reframing we use as a tool to deal with a world where we’re constantly losing what’s most important to us while at the same time trying to enjoy whatever we’re left with.
As if the universe has a mind (which it doesn’t) and is trying to give me a message (which it isn’t) my Grandfather died this morning, on my birthday, on a day when I woke up enraptured with the fact of my existence and grateful for the ineffably beautiful experience of being alive. The universe isn’t trying to teach me a lesson about symmetry or cycles or anything else. It’s just a universe. It’s not a mind. But I am a mind, and even though there’s no message, I have the amazing, enlivening ability to make meaning from whatever happens to me in the mindless universe.
There is a symmetry to all of this for me. My body hurts, feels pushed down by the weight of grief. I want to call my mom and tell her everything, to cry with her, to hear her voice...but of course, she’s dead, too. So I take this pain, and I do what I do with pain: use it to remind myself that I can only know how painful it is to be alive because I am alive...so gloriously, inexplicably alive despite the overwhelming odds that say I should never have existed at all. And knowing that all human beings experience pain much like I do, I can use my life to eliminate as much of that hurt from the world as possible so that this wonderful life can be a little better for everyone.
Thirty-two years ago on this day, my mom was giving birth to me, holding me for the first time in her arms, smiling and thinking about all of her hopes for my life. And what a life! I can’t tell you how much I love my life! I love all of it, every inch of it. I love simple experiences like food and wine. I love complex experiences like falling in love and mothering contrary children. I love the part where I’m knocked off my feet by the hurt of losing my Grandfather—because it is entailed in the fact of having a Grandfather. And I had the best, the very, very best Grandfather. He filled my life with an impossibly huge amount of love and blessing and care. He and my Grandmother were instrumental in raising my little brother who is my very best friend and one of the most hard-working, talented, compassionate people on the face of the planet. My Grandfather loved and nurtured my aunt and uncle who in turn loved and nurtured my outstanding cousins—all of whom improve the world by being in it. I love all of this. Of course, it is hard; it hurts very much to be alive. I hate being motherless. I need my mother. I hate that I’ve lost friends I need. I've lost my Grandparents. And I’ve lost opportunities and hope and dignity and ideas about who I am and what I'm capable of. I am not grateful to the universe for its mindless, unrelenting greediness for things I want to keep. But how I love that I can hate the universe for this! How I love that I exist to love every inch of my life!—to love even the experience of hating.
And so, here I am on my 32nd birthday, a puddle of joy and tears and birth and loss and enveloped in a profound sense of awe at the majesty of being.