What happens in a Death Cafe?
It's a question....or it is THE question...a useful an open ended question.
The Death Cafe organizers have rules. The lack of an agenda is listed on their website as practically sacrament or in the hushed tones I might use in a cathedral. That means each death cafe is different. Hosts never know how it will be. It depends on who shows up and that consistently varies. The one I recently attended in San Francisco was modeled by hosts who looked full of joyful anticipation...almost amusement at the surprise about to unfold.
Safe, Sacred and Secular...
In this one, there were the usual beginning bits when thoughtful strangers meet to talk about deeper subjects. Such as those of confidentiality, and the polite commonalities of etiquette, which are mostly covered in the golden rule. There was a grounded opening of the reading of a poem, followed by a moment of silence. The check-in was short, set the tone for the evening, and started to hint at what subject matter was on the individual hearts in attendance. I watched many in the group quietly called to nods of silent concurrence.
These polite beginnings of many moved into the voiced frustrations with the aches and illnesses of living to such a ripeness that most humans of history would marvel. In my check-in, I quoted Ram Dass, in one of my favorite instantly resonating wisdoms, "We are all just walking each other home..." Home relating to the great mystery of our endings, which we are here this evening to become more familiar.
Shedding Snake Skins
A memorable elder lifted up the idea of shedding our 'skins' in that he had shed so many identities just like a snake in growing larger. I feel that way too, though I did not say it. There was a lot of quiet agreement in this Death Cafe. It is easy to resonate with a thought, previously only in my head but never voiced, which are then spoken-out-loud but not by me (or is that you). Attendance is largely about becoming intimate with these human commonalities, which our culture largely avoids and goes to great expense to ignore. It makes us less authentic... and smaller.
"How people die remains in the memory of those who live on."
– Dame Cicely Saunders (1918 - 2005) founder of the modern hospice movement
Why do we live our lives as if we were immortal?
These blinders on experiencing our 'others' endings, as they naturally occur within our lifespan increases the fear factor for our own experience of a good end. However, this gathering stands in opposition to that norm. There is an odd curiosity and joy here for a life examined...
Curiously, I felt very alive that evening...and for the next few days. Life seemed a little more clear... and dear. For me, that was a good-enough reason to attend. It added to my resilience cistern...or at least my perspective.
There is something very important here. If we actually own that we do not have all the time we might want, then we will be much more open to intensifying our efforts to save the world...or live our own lives to optimize satisfaction we might feel at our own surprise ending.
on a Chaplain's life